I am going to ask you a simple question. You may GOOGLE this later to fact check my answer. What do the following companies all have in common? Dell, GM, Ford, Kodak, Block Buster, Micro Soft, Motorola, Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Sony, Yahoo, Xerox, Border Books, Blackberry, Polaroid and of course the home of the Twinkie, Hostess? They are examples of once strong companies that felt they owned the MARKET and did not need to invest in research. I might even be so bold to include the Washington apple industry. I can recall a few short years ago when Washington felt the entire world would always crave a red or yellow delicious apple. They scoffed at eastern growers for having such a vast line of varieties. I need not tell you, orchards in Washington State bear little resemblance to life in the not so distant past.
At the close of WW11 farms could actually conduct business with the attitude, ‘if we grow what we want the markets will consume it’. Business ran from the plow to the consumer. Today all is changed. Informed agriculture realizes that the flow is from the shopping cart back to the plow. Today we are many generations removed from an American society that nearly every family could lay a connection to some farm roots. The modern consumer craves for the taste of the produce from the past. The rise of grown local and the home grown labels that are today common. They want flavor and safety in knowing the produce they are consuming is safe. What they do not understand they shy away from. (GMOs for example.)
To meet this trend we must not be an industry from the above list. We must find ways to produce for the modern consumer. She is as diverse as the many cars on the road. Henry Ford was certain we all would be happy to drive ‘black’ cars. GM and Ford had to almost declare bankruptcy before they were willing to make much improved, longer lasting more fuel efficient cars.
The New York industry to its credit has been re-inventing itself. We have much more to accomplish. Not only must we be willing to offer newer, crisper better flavors to our consumers. They want us to do so with safer chemicals to both the end users and the environment. To accomplish this we need to invest in research. Not too long ago the industry voted to double its self-assessment for applied research. This spurred a respect for our willingness to change. The NYS Senate when presented with our story matched our contribution. Great news. The issue is are we doing enough and fast enough?
There are two major categories for research. Private and publically funded. Private is of course important but it carries with it the baggage of being both biased and self-serving. I am not certain if the general public always trusts BIG BUSINESS to make all of these decisions. Publically funded research may be the way to go to meet the needs of a hungry industry for knowledge and in keeping the consumer’s confidence.
As a grower I tended to make my farming decisions heavily from Extension or University studies. I felt they offered a much more objective opinion. We must find ways to embrace knowledge from all sides. The challenge is how to finance this? I think we are on the correct path. We need to continue to be willing to invest our own funds from our own pockets. As I have indicated we have a new partner. That consumer who no longer has a distant agriculture tie to her food supply, I think is willing to see public funds to drive this innovation. The gains we make are not for the sole benefit of the few farmers but all consumers. You may grow apples but your family consumes food from the entire food supply.
So the correct reply to my title is I hope we never feel so complacent that we resist innovation. As farmers we claim to be GROWERS. We must always strive for new ways to be better growers. Investing in research is essential to our continued survival.