Jean Marie Laprise began producing Brussels sprouts commercially in Chatham-Kent in 1992 in spite of OMAFRA stating that it could not be done successfully due to our climate. Brussels sprouts are normally grown in temperate climates along the Atlantic or Pacific coasts in Canada and the US.
By 1998, Laprise Farms Ltd had become the largest producer of Brussels sprouts in Canada. In 2000, Dave Vansegbrook partnered with Laprise and eventually, they more than doubled the business to the point that all Brussels sprouts produced for processing and freezing in eastern Canada are produced by the Laprise / Vansegbrook joint venture in Chatham-Kent.
This operation is also by far the largest fresh market supplier of Brussels sprouts in eastern Canada. Since the closing of the two Brussels sprout freezer plants in British Columbia, the reduction of acreage in that area, and the increase in production by this partnership, Chatham-Kent has become the Brussels sprout capital of Canada. You may find these Brussels sprouts fresh in most chain stores from September to November.
“Frozen Brussels sprouts labeled “Product of Canada” under all major brands and store brands were most likely grown right here in Chatham-Kent. “
The health benefits of Brussels sprouts have often been noted in magazines and other publications. Food safety is a priority in this operation. It is Canada Gap Certified which means it is third party audited annually to ensure that all food safety protocols are followed and that there is traceability on their product from the seed to the finished goods going to the market.
Many people locally have never seen Brussels sprouts grown and have no idea of how much impact they have in our community. Approximately 105 to 110 seasonal jobs are created locally from the greenhouse production of transplants in March, to the transplanting of the crop, to hoeing and topping. The harvest is from September to November.
The Brussels sprout business is very capital intensive and high risk. Furthermore, it is very labour and management intensive which makes it a very tough business to get into.
“The balance between processing and fresh market volume is also important to maintaining viability in a very competitive business where the sale price in 2017 is the same as in 1991.”
Belgium and California are the two largest competitors. Their main advantages are the temperate climate as well as the much longer growing season. Growth, efficiency, and economies of scale have allowed us to provide a quality product at a competitive price while keeping the business in Canada.
The packing shed operates from mid-September to late November starting with one shift, then moving to two shifts after Thanksgiving, operating seven days per week with 35 people per shift. The field staff of approximately 35 operate 24 hours per day to supply the packing shed for 16 hours of operation per day. An additional nine field staff operate on an eight to ten hour shift as required. The five harvesters and 20 delivery units along with all the packing shed equipment and other supporting equipment require full time maintenance staff to be available 24 hours per day.
The Brussels sprout test plots planted annually are an important part of the program. The process ensures the best quality and best tasting product possible available to the customer in the size that will meet market demands for both the freezer and fresh market customers.
One thing that is clear with both Dave and Jean is that neither of them would want to take on this task on their own.
“It takes an enormous amount of qualified, responsible, dedicated, as well as food-safety and quality-minded staff to get this job done. “
Being a dependable supplier to customers who depend on them exclusively for their supply of quality raw product is a responsibility that this operation takes very seriously. They treat their customers with great respect as partners in the business.
The Laprise side of the partnership currently has five family members involved in ensuring continuity of supply and the stability of this operation to our customers as well as for Dave long term. The eventual succession planning and transition of responsibilities is inevitable in all businesses. Change often brings new opportunities and we will be ready for change as always!
This article was written and submitted by: Jean Marie Laprise – Laprise Farms Ltd. (Pain Court, ON) and Dave Vansegbrook – DVS Farms Ltd. (Tupperville, ON)