Seed World

Cindy Rouet is Ensuring a Healthy Future for Ontario’s Fox Seeds

Cindy Rouet’s journey into the world of plant breeding began with a spark of curiosity. After high school in her birth country of France, she embarked on a path to addressing the global challenges of food security. It was during this time that Rouet’s fascination with plant breeding and genetics took root.

Her journey led her across continents, from the Netherlands to Canada, where she pursued internships and research projects focused on plant breeding. She studied in the Netherlands and then started her research on rose breeding in Canada at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, where she got her PhD in 2021.

Despite the distance from her family in France, Rouet felt at home in Canada focusing on her work.

At Fox Seeds, which has the exclusive rights to produce seed from the asparagus hybrids developed by the breeding program at the University of Guelph, Rouet’s leadership in the field has become evident as she’s worked hard to modernize the company’s breeding pipeline to address the evolving needs of the industry. For the past three years she has helped transition the university’s asparagus breeding program to Fox Seeds.

For Rouet, now 31, the future of asparagus breeding lies in embracing innovation while staying true to the core principle of sustainability.

Canada’s asparagus industry is a small but growing sector of the country’s vegetable production. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian farmers sold 9,348 metric tonnes of asparagus in spring 2022, up 7.5% from one year earlier and the second-largest harvest on record. Farmers grew over three times more asparagus in 2022 than they did two decades earlier. The farm gate value of asparagus was $48.7 million in 2022, almost double the sales from one decade earlier. Ontario and Quebec accounted for over 90% of Canada’s total asparagus production in 2022, with Ontario producing 75.6% and Quebec producing 17.4%. And quality seed of cutting-edge varieties is needed to do it.

Canada also imports and exports asparagus, mainly from and to the United States. In 2020, Canada imported $63.8 million worth of asparagus and exported $18.9 million worth of the vegetable.

“We are exploring new biotechnologies to improve disease resistance and enhance productivity,” she says. “But our ultimate goal remains the same: to develop varieties that meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

As Rouet looks ahead, her vision for the industry is clear: “We must continue to inspire and nurture the next generation of plant scientists,” she asserts. “By fostering curiosity and providing opportunities for growth, we can ensure a brighter future for agriculture.”

How does she help do this? By leveraging the resources Fox Seeds has at its disposal.

“Being so close to the University of Guelph has been incredibly beneficial for us. The asparagus breeding program’s strong connection with the university has sparked a lot of interest among Guelph students,” she says.

“Having been exposed to the program during my time at Guelph, I understand the appeal it holds for students seeking a career in plant science. This proximity has not only generated interest but also provided us with a pool of technically skilled applicants when filling positions. We’ve been fortunate to attract passionate individuals who are enthusiastic about contributing to our mission.”