Dynamics of farm profit, produce diversification, and quality
Small vegetable producers have to do their own produce product development. They have to do the full work of developing new products, yet their small scales mean that the future cash flows are small relative to their hefty PD investments.
Successful produce market categories are eventually diluted, drained, or altogether lost for smaller producers. Willard Cochrane calls this ongoing, predictable competitive phenomenon agriculture's "treadmill." Perfectly free markets are actually unprosperous and deadly for independent farmers. Small producer product development is largely motivated by the imperative to de-commoditize and differentiate as a strategy for escaping the treadmill.
Public supply management schemes are culturally out of favor, even in sectors that badly need them, like dairy. Managing prices is illegal. Private labels, however, food hubs, and other food system actors are effectively performing these same functions of planning supply -- usually coupled with diversifying and enlarging total demand.
Quality, as a brand choice, must be linked to a brand in such a way that producers accrue tangible surplus benefit from all the "extra" attention and efforts required over time for this "high quality" choice.
Producers, marketers, and "input suppliers" don't always happily align in their financial incentives. Since several common models create tension, especially if the aims are quality and differentiated products, the best mutual results arise from well-aligned collaboration formats.
Problems that our business design solves for
Dynamics of quality-oriented and smaller-scale plant breeding
Plant breeders aspire to have autonomy and authorship, but when not embedded in a larger company, they can struggle to find a model enabling profit and reinvest in their operations.
The challenge of breeding plants for more nutritious crops is vastly under-resourced relative to its importance for human health and society. Organic sector stakeholders are absent from this effort, with larger companies and universities the main players currently at the table.
Meanwhile, the soils and farming systems under which trialing and selection is occuring are not necessarily the system that produce nutrient density and anti-flammatory properties in foods. New varieties take years to develop, yet most plant breeding in general targets good plant performance on the farms of today, rather than for forerunner farmers years in the future.
For plant breeders who breed for quality, their reputations ride on product quality instances, out in the world, that they have zero control of. Fumbles and misfires downstream reflect on plant breeders' brands when a user encounters a failed product.
Public plant breeding has been steadily dying in most crops and geographies of the US. Meanwhile, public academic breeders still train many young plant breeders. However young plant breeder graduates still lack important aspects of applied and creative plant breeding.
Young breeders have few opportunities with an attractive enough reward to stability/risk ratio. The ethical and agroecological seed sector has been unable to generate attractive jobs to pay for, hire, and retain top early- and mid-career talent. A component of this is that our agroecological firms generally lack scale, organization, and financial resources.
Older, experienced plant breeders who teach outside of the university system have underutilized potential. The next generation and future society greatly benefits from this activity, and yet we are not monetizing this. Older breeders could use the recognition, the income stream, and the physical resources of young breeder training programs, but instead do this pro bono and under-resourced, or not at all.