(Oct. 10) LEAMINGTON, Ontario — The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers have reached across Canada and outside their industry to find a new leader.

The association, operating without a general manager since the Jan. 20 departure of Denton Hoffman, has hired British Columbia native and Saskatchewan resident Michael Bechtel for the position.

Bechtel, 47, had spent the last five years in Saskatoon, managing a business training program for scientists as part of the University of Saskatoon-funded Agriculture Biotechnology Initiative.

Before that, Bechtel had served as an agricultural consultant for more than 20 years in British Columbia, specializing in strategic planning and marketing systems.

“You name the commodity that is produced on the West Coast, I’ve been involved with it,” he said.

This, however, is Bechtel’s first foray into the greenhouse vegetable business.

A week into the job he was spending a lot of time listening to association members, who greeted him formally at an Oct. 7 luncheon in Leamington.

“At this point, I really haven’t made up my mind on a lot of things, except to bring it together,” Bechtel said of the association, which has dealt with dissent and discord among its members in recent years. “There seems to be a little lack of cohesiveness and trying to get everyone to pull in the same direction.”

The root of at least some of that discord appeared to be a disagreement among some members about the role of the association in marketing greenhouse products.

Bechtel said the association’s board has to figure out what the organization’s mission is, and then he will try to provide some direction.

“The board themselves have to define where they want to go and identify themselves as an entity,” Bechtel said. “A lot of people have a difference of opinion on what the board should be involved in.”

Cohesion also is necessary in presenting Ontario-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and other commodities to the world, Bechtel said.

“In terms of marketing, the responsibility of a marketing board isn’t to sell product. It is to market an image, per se, around greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers and present that to the buying community as a better alternative to field products,” he said. “The board should create an image around their product, as well as their member growers.”

Jay Colasanti, co-owner of Red Zoo Marketing, Ruthven, said the organization needed a strong director and appeared to have found one in Bechtel.

“It’s general management of the grower’s organization,” Colasanti said. “It’s a managerial position. As far as the marketers are concerned, we don’t have that much interactivity with that group.”

In contrast to Hoffman, who maintained a residence in Toronto, Bechtel and his family are moving to Leamington.

“To be in the community is a big part of it,” he said. “The house we’ve found is close enough to be fully involved. That’s very important.”

Leamington-area producers concur with that point.

“It definitely shows a level of commitment, which is what we like to see,” said Claudio Mastronardi, vice president of Leamington-based MCM Acres Ltd.

Guido Policella, salesman with Leamington-based Amco Produce Inc., said a director-in-residence would be valuable.

“It’s always good to have somebody there,” he said. “It’s more stable now because we know somebody is there.”