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105 Cooking, Food & Wine > Vegetables & Vegetarian  
Advances in New Crops


This paper summarizes some of our experiences gained at the University of Minnesota in recent years in developing the Center for Alternative Crops and Products. We expect that these experiences are typical of similar programs in other states and in private organizations. It has been necessary to deal with the development of this new initiative and our specific projects and activities in an atmosphere of resistance, skepticism, parochialism, and unreasonable expectations. Fortunately, there are always some individuals and organizations that are supportive of and enthusiastic about new crops research and development.


The principal activity in starting a new crops program, whether it is intended to develop one or numerous crops, is achieving an effective organization. There are a number of important factors to be considered, as follows:

Champion(s) of the Effort

Every successful new venture requires one or more champions. New direction implies a high probability of failure, so there must be someone who is willing to take the risks and not be disturbed when problems occur. Without this kind of leadership, vision, and simple persistence, new ideas are not likely to be successful.


An effective organization requires the commitment of rime by individuals, and probably a lot of individuals. There is no shortage of time, since most of us are expected to do new things. It is simply a question of whether individuals are willing to give priority to new crop and product activities. In some cases there really is no interest but there are other reasons why a commitment may not be made, including fear of failure, peer disrespect and administrative disapproval. If more is known about people's interests and their crop and disciplinary experiences, it's easier to overcome these problems and obtain their eager participation.

Industry Interest

Agribusiness is the end user of any new crop research and development efforts and can, consequently, discourage or encourage this work. Experience shows that interest increases and declines with the general profitability of agriculture, i.e. there is little encouragement when soybeans are $15/bushel. Despite these interest cycles, there are numerous individuals in all aspects of this sector who have vision, foresight, and consistent interest in diversification of agricultural opportunities. These progressive people should be involved in the planning efforts and can be very helpful in adoption of results.

There must also be the capability and the infrastructure in industry to adopt the results of research and development projects. If the gap between the information and the capability to use it is too great, it will not be adopted. This technology transfer is critical. In some cases, this can be overcome by governmental support programs that provide a temporary "bridge" to allow for adoption of the information and technology in pursuit of the new opportunity.

Academic Priority

In an academic setting, faculty probably have more freedom to explore new crops and take risks than do their counterparts in private industry. This freedom is dependent, however, on the priority given to this type of work by administrators at all levels. One of the greatest sources of discouragement to faculty is the potential negative impact their participation in new crops work may have on their performance evaluations. This type of research is viewed as applied, although that is not necessarily true, and a lot of administrators give more priority, to basic research. While it is important to generate enthusiasm among colleagues, it is equally important to convince administrator's, whether in a public or private environment, that the work is valuable, of scientific interest, and can involve a range of research activities from applied to basic. It should also be possible to show, that this work builds effective interdisciplinary cooperation and opens new ways for researchers to see the application of their research.

Political Priority

Significant support in various forms can come from political sources so it is necessary to cultivate enthusiasm in this area as with other groups. Although some political agencies may not provide financial support, they can be helpful in conducting research and development projects in the areas of marketing, promotion, legislative liaison and others. Conversely, political agencies and legislative groups can have a very negative impact on development efforts, if these projects are not high on their priority list. Some politicians and lobbying groups feel that agriculture is already too productive.

Financial Support

It is not possible to accomplish long term goals without adequate financial support; however, areas such as new crops research and development require that the factors discussed above be dealt with first. Additionally, some results may need to be generated in advance of funding proposals as evidence of potential. When enthusiasm is developed on all "fronts" for new crops, funding still may not be simple but it is much more likely to be available.

Procuring long term funding is a difficult situation. There is no wisdom in depending on benevolent interests, internal or external, for the sustained funding necessary to conduct programs with aggressiveness and confidence. From the beginning it is necessary to plan on producing a product of sufficient value to permit the complete recovery of all costs plus some small buffer that can be used to initiate new work. When costs are recovered using the products produced, the program has control of its own destiny. However, when funding comes from other sources, those sources are in control and the project can be terminated at their discretion. The best that can be achieved is a mix because most administrators are not going to allow a program to be totally independent and beyond their financial control.


After the initial hurdles of establishing an organization have been successfully overcome, there are some activities that are critical to the successful development and commercialization of new crops. Only two of the many activities will be discussed here. Both are applicable to most situations and are probably of the greatest importance.


 Additional Info
 No. 298
 Posted on 8 June, 2006
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