Greedy Growers By Lisa Cork
I’ve had really interesting conversations with growers recently. And, funnily enough, several of them have evolved around the same theme – the theme of the ‘greedy’ grower. Let me explain. A few weeks ago, I helped facilitate a strategic day with a growers’ group. They wanted to do some brainstorming or what I call ‘outside the carton’ thinking, so we spent part of the day discussing a range of issues, opportunities and new ideas. One of the themes that kept coming up was what can growers do to increase their returns. This particular group of growers had experienced relatively light crop volumes for the past few seasons and their increased returns as a result of the lighter crop were appealing. They wanted to discuss how they could continue to replicate this. Since I tend to be pretty good at asking the obvious questions, I simply asked the guys, “Well, wouldn’t the key be to keep future volumes aligned with the past few years when you got a good return? Ergo, maybe you could grow a similar amount?” Well, that got them going. Basically, they agreed with growing less, as long as it was ‘the other guy’ who grew less and not them. Their thinking was if they grew less, then they would be the one to miss out on the increased return. And none of them could face that. So while logically they knew that less volume earned them more money, none of them were consciously willing to grow less volume to achieve more money. The only reason they’d had less volume in the prior few seasons was more as a result of climate and yield issues than any intention to grow less. The whole concept of intentionally growing less was just simply not in their sphere of possibility. As we wound up the conversation one of the guys said, “We need to face it Lisa. We are just greedy; the lot of us. We want what we can’t have but we are not willing to work together close enough to ensure we get what we want.” And I guess that about sums it up. Fast forward a few weeks and I was at dinner with some grower friends. We also were talking about over production and they too used the words ‘greedy.’ The context was something like, “If we simply culled harder and threw more of product X out, then our returns would go up. But unfortunately, no one wants to throw more out so we all end up with lower returns. Lisa, pure and simple, it is grower greed.” The interesting thing, from my perspective, is I would never describe any of the growers I have met over my 20+ years in the business as greedy. To me, greedy implies a certain ruthlessness, a certain ‘get my share at all costs’ type of attitude and I don’t believe growers are like that. Let me tell you about two other conversations.
I recently presented a proposal to a small group of growers who grow a real niche product. We were bantering around some of the ideas and we got to talking about business card titles. One of the growers said, “Do you know what I put on my card? I put, ‘Fresh Food Grower.” He said this with such pride and it was evident he took great pride in that title. Fast forward to the AsiaFruit Congress in Hong Kong. I got talking with another grower and he was recounting a conversation he’d had with some Asian retail buyers. They had asked him what his differential advantage was and he simply told them, “I am the grower. I am the one who grows the food you want to sell.” Again, he recounted the story with pride…and genuine pleasure and it was a joy to watch him tell the story. Here is my take. I don’t believe growers are greedy – not in the true definition of the word. I think growers are growers - which means what you do is - you grow food. And you do it damn well. And the thought of holding back or planting less simply doesn't factor into your thinking because growing food is what you do. I laugh because as many of you know, last year I planted my first ‘real’ garden (meaning not a lone basil plant in a pot). I grew tomatoes, lettuce, capsicum and beetroot. And while yes, I got a small harvest of fresh produce, what I grew best was white fly and caterpillars! Growing food is both an art and a science. Not everyone can do it well and fortunately, we have growers who are experts at doing it and we need them to feed both us…and the world. So no, you are not greedy. You simply do what you do really well – and that is definitely something to be proud of.
This column first appeared in Good Fruit and Vegetable Grower Magazine, 2013. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Lisa Cork is a global fresh produce strategist. Through her FreshInsights™ Process and FreshInsights™ Model, She helps growers, produce and horticultural companies create demand and grow value that benefits the bottom line. She is also a passionate an inspirational guest speaker at conferences around the world. For more FreshInsights™, visit: www.lisacork.com or www.freshproductmarketing.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are encouraged to share and forward this column. Please keep the by-line as written above so others know where to come for more FreshInsights™.