From the Editor: March 2012

March 20, 2012
Written by
Something new.” That’s the simple answer retailers will give if you ask them what consumers want.

And they’re right, to a point. But it not only has to be “something new,” it also has to be something “better” than its predecessors – a true innovation.

One of the most popular locations at the Ohio Short Course is the New Varieties section. It’s often bustling with growers taking notes and pictures of the latest introductions. (Breeders should place handouts that offer cultural and marketing information in this area.)

The vegetable sector has been successful with new introductions. When I started with the magazine in 1996, the industry was primarily beefsteak tomatoes and cucumbers, with some lettuce. Now, it’s in peppers in all colours, eggplant, mini cucumbers, and cluster, grape and cocktail tomatoes, to name a few.

So while customers are looking for something new, are all growers adopting the same philosophy?

For the most part, the answer is yes. Innovation is king. It’s a question of survival. “The enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines,” said noted modern management specialist Peter F. Drucker. “And in a period of rapid change such as the present… the decline will be fast.”

This is one reason our “Growing Lean” series has been so popular. The Lean system has long been accepted in manufacturing; who would have thought it would be just as effective in horticulture?

Taking time to analyze how we do things, and looking for efficiences, has proven to save both time and money. It doesn’t have to cost much, if anything at all. A grower in B.C. even attributes reduced disease pressures in his greenhouse last year to Lean changes – what value could you possibly put on that?

Innovation is not without risk. Not all new ideas are better ideas. IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. once said that “the way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”

As longtime columnist Melhem Sawaya is fond of saying, trial a new variety for a season or two, see how it does in the marketplace, and then switch some of your production over to it. Don’t just jump in with a major crop change the first year. Make sure your “failures” are confined to your trial program.

Industry leaders tend to be natural innovators, and the growth of the industry has been driven by those with foresight. “Innovation,” competitive strategy expert Michael Porter once wrote, “is the central issue in economic prosperity.”

And this is where government support for research comes in. They must continue to fund those programs. In this era of cutbacks, a major fear is that agriculture will be particularly hard hit.

What is your innovation this year? It could be an interesting new variety, a new crop line, a piece of equipment, or even a Lean review. Attend trade shows and conferences, browse the Internet, talk with colleagues and suppliers, and read industry publications.

Increased profitability is just a successful innovation away.

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