Business students research economic viability of locally grown Chinese eggplant
Two University of Guelph business students recently got a taste of researching a crop that could eventually become a staple of Canada’s agriculture industry, and gained marketable skills in the process. Accounting student Patrice Bigaignon and marketing management student (now alumna) Victoria Steele contributed to a project on the future of Chinese eggplant in Canada by creating a cost of production analysis and template in collaboration with Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland).
Working under the supervision of professor Elliott Currie, Bigaignon and Steele conducted in-depth research on Chinese eggplant, which required them to examine numerous factors affecting the viability of growing it locally. According to Currie, Chinese eggplant is just one crop that can be grown in Canada, but is yet to become popular among producers.
“The purpose of this research effort was to determine if Chinese eggplant would be economically viable as well as horticulturally productive,” he explained. “Canada currently imports numerous vegetables, fruits and nuts that can be grown here but are not. Proving there is a market for it and that producers can generate profit from it by charging competitive prices helps offset the risk of entering an unfamiliar market niche, not to mention the opportunity to grow more crops that are fresher, likely more nutritious and local.”
To complete the project, the students collected and analyzed existing information through Vineland and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), determined optimal growing conditions and predicted the approximate selling price in the Canadian market as well as associated variable costs. All of this information led them to determine multiple profit margins influenced by yield and price, and a conclusion as to the economic feasibility of the project.
"Since Chinese eggplants have never been grown in Canada, it was very exciting to be working on a project that would help determine the economic feasibility of the product." said Bigaignon. “It was also really interesting to learn about agriculture, a field I had not previously worked in.”
Gaining agricultural knowledge was also a draw for Steele, who was in her final year at the University of Guelph and looking to acquire new skills that would impress future employers.
“As a marketing student who had never worked closely with agriculture, I knew this would be my last opportunity before graduating,” she said. “I knew a lot of people who had done research projects and had nothing but good things to say, so when I found out about the opportunity I was very excited. I was able to speak to this project during the majority of my job interviews.”
In addition to learning about agricultural research, Bigaignon and Steele also gained valuable experience creating professional documents such as spreadsheets, managing projects, presenting to a variety of audiences, critically analyzing data, maintaining professional relationships and working as a team. According to Steele, these skills have been useful in her new role in the marketing department at Hasbro Toys.
“Since starting work I have been using these skills on a daily basis. I would be lost at work without the Excel skills I gained while working on the eggplant research. We're constantly presenting to clients and accounts, building professional documents for distribution, and staying on top of our work without hard deadlines. I feel much more confident doing these types of things because of this project.”
Over and above this immediate skill building, Bigaignon added that there was a certain level of excitement associated with being a part of a project that has the potential to make a large impact on agriculture.
“I think the most exciting thing about this project is being part of something with international implication,” said Bigaignon. “If production increases in Canada that could affect the level to which we import eggplants as well.”
This research on Chinese eggplant is just one example of applied projects coordinated by Currie. He previously advised a group of students who researched the development of goat’s milk soap as an entrepreneurial venture in Haiti, a project led by geography PhD Candidate, Jennifer Vansteenkiste.
“I look forward to continuing these outreach opportunities” he said. “These kinds of projects are a great value to the students and industry.”