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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.