Waiting to see which new varieties breeders will bring out for show and tell at 2016 California Spring Trials feels to me like it did waiting for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to hit the movie theaters last December. Anticipation was high, everything was hush hush, and the media trailers gave a taste of what was to come — but failed to satisfy. Up until the opening credits ran, I was left to wonder: How will the old compare with the new?
If this year’s trials are anything like their predecessors, there will be plenty of new plants to go around. With so many classic, high-performing varieties floating around already, there are those who question the need for so many new varieties, especially when what is new to us looks vastly different than what is new to consumers.
We see production problems solved, faster turns, clearer colors; consumers see what captures their attention, what serves a purpose. And that isn’t always the brand-spanking new variety on the bench. It may be the petunia their neighbor raved about that was new two years ago or the lavender in the gallon pot that just went on sale.
While I agree on many fronts that there are more new plants than consumers can possibly handle, new is necessary, and here’s why. New equates with innovation, and an industry stripped of innovation is weak, lacking in originality, and impotent. Moreover, without the push for new, there’s no incentive to improve on the old.
As one breeder recently pointed out to me, accumulating more new colors merely adds to the assortment already available. Breeders also need to focus on plant breeding that creates solutions. Another said, without new plants it’s difficult to maintain interest with customers looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors, especially at the big box level.
It is more important than ever that breeders offer a full range of new products to balance the old with the new. To stay relevant with today’s ever-changing consumer, we need to keep things fresh. To increase our chances of success — namely figuring out what consumers want — the more plants to choose from, the better. So if that means coming out with a new variety today that will catch someone’s eye in three or four years, serve a function in their garden, or solve a production problem, — it’s all worth it in my opinion.