By this time next year, Quebec researchers may experiment with crops such as okra, yard-long beans and Indian squashes to help meet the growing demand for specialty food in Montreal and across the province.

The St. Leonard-based Quebec Produce Growers Association commissioned a study to identify specialty produce that may grow well in Quebec. The results are expected to be presented to the QPGA in late December, general manager Andre Plante said.

“It’s not easy growing new products in our cold climate,” Plante said. “Once we identify priority items, we’ll give the study results to researchers and ask them to help us develop these varieties in Quebec.”

As immigrants continue to arrive in Quebec, the list of products they request from home grows longer, said George Pitsikoulis, president of Montreal wholesaler Canadawide.

“Within the ethnic realm, that’s where we’ve noticed the biggest growth,” Pitsikoulis said.

Agronomist Julie Nichols and her network of eight local growers understand well the challenges of growing Asian produce in Quebec.

The heat and drought made it a tough summer,” said Nichols, president of Mont St. Hilaire, Quebec-based Organzo, which sells 70% of its cabbages, bok choy and radishes to the U.S. and the remainder to Quebec and Ontario.

“Our cruciferous vegetables don’t like the heat, so the yield was poor, and we had to work long hours and irrigate late at night. It was stressful,” Nichols said.

In the end, prices weren’t bad, and the year ended “a little above average,” she said.

While Organzo specializes in Asian vegetables for Chinese and Korean markets, Nichols said there’s plenty of room for other specialty crops in Quebec.

“I don’t know one Quebec grower who’s growing Indian vegetables to supply that demand, and what about African vegetables and Latino produce?” she asked.

For crops that require a warmer climate, “we have a lot of well-equipped greenhouses,” she said.

To meet the existing demand for new produce, a number of importers, including Montreal-based CDS Brokers, are breaking into the specialty market.

For the past 18 months, CDS has received weekly containers of Asian fruit and South American vegetables such as chayotes, yucca, eddoes and different varieties of sweet potatoes.

“The demand for tropical and exotic products grows daily and has surpassed our expectations,” said president Cesare Della Santina, who also specializes in garlic, ginger and shallots.

“People are interested in trying new products and expanding their palates, and in return we have new products on our plates and on the store shelves,” he said.