I Relent: Reconsidering Tuber Sales and Social Media

I work with plants and spend most of my time alone.  I prefer it that way, but there are downsides to living in your head most of the time.  One of those is that ideas that seem quite solid to you simply don’t work for other people.  I seem to have been on a tear with those recently.  I also tend to be an all or nothing thinker.  If an idea is good, then we should always implement it as thoroughly and quickly as possible, right?  Well, probably not in most cases.  The world is complex and there are often more factors to consider than are immediately apparent.

I made two really unpopular decisions this year.  The first was to abandon social media.  I got a lot of feedback about that, covering a wide spectrum, and it is both the volume and the diversity of arguments that convinced me that I was probably not thinking about the situation correctly.  I have actually been pretty happy to be off of social media.  There is a time wasting component to it that is hard to control.  But I still found a lot of the arguments compelling, particularly the idea that I was undertaking a sort of group punishment because I don’t like the social media companies, but honestly, the number of people writing to tell me that they missed seeing my updates and what everyone was up to, wished they still had an easy way to ask questions, or were just writing to say that they hoped I would reopen the Facebook group really swayed me.  So, I plan to reengage a bit with social media and reopen the Facebook group, but I am still going to take a little more time to think about how to do that most effectively.

The second unpopular decision I made, to end tuber sales in favor of in vitro plantlet sales, received an even stronger negative reaction and that is putting it rather lightly.  I was not prepared for how thoroughly people would hate this idea.  Disappointing many of your biggest and most long-standing customers is probably not a good business model.  I love the idea of primarily offering disease free plantlets, but they turn out to be something that my typical customer has little interest in.  Perhaps that is because I haven’t communicated their benefits clearly enough, but most people are focused on the expense and inconvenience and I can see that those are real concerns, particularly in an increasingly difficult economy.

It was 2015 when I first discovered that many of these clonal crops were carrying diseases that could cause serious problems and embarked on a journey to clean them up and make them safe to grow.  That was a rewarding journey, particularly in terms of the incredible amount that I have learned, but also a stressful one.  For a time, it took a lot of fun out of this job.  It took a lot of effort and focus away from breeding.  It cost a lot of money.  I lost a lot of varieties, both because abandoning them was often easier than cleaning them and because my divided attention meant something was always getting neglected.  That period of stress has mostly ended.  The monsters have been slain and the diseases that remain in these crops are mostly the more or less ubiquitous sorts that we all deal with, but it seems clear that I have developed a sort of hyper-vigilance.   I’m trying to solve problems that most people don’t really consider to be problems, particularly relative to the expense and inconvenience necessary to do so.

So, I have deleted the posts talking about the end of tuber sales.  I will pursue a middle ground.  I will offer tubers grown from plantlets as I always planned to.  I may not offer as many different varieties every year as I used to, perhaps about half the collection each year with some of the most popular varieties on an annual basis.  I will offer in vitro plantlets for everything, but I won’t force them on people who don’t want them.  I am going to work on relaxing my hyper-vigilance a bit, enjoying plant breeding and communicating more, and letting you make the decisions about what sort of products suit you best.

Don’t worry.  There will be more new and unpopular ideas coming in the future, because that is just my nature.  Every once in a while, I find one that stands the test of time.

6 thoughts on “I Relent: Reconsidering Tuber Sales and Social Media

  1. Dawn Andersson says:

    Thank is such good news! I have missed you calm, kind, and knowledgeable voice. I am very sorry about your freak freezing event that I thought led to you feeling you were spending too much time on social media. Best news of the week!

  2. Cynthia says:

    We just missed YOU, our fearless leader! Some of us are living vicariously thru you, and the work you are doing. Many of us are your brothers and sisters who feel similarly about social media, but have a limited way to connect with others who share this incredible human-plant relationship. Thanks for circling around.

  3. Patrick FitzGetald says:

    Well done for being so thoughtful on your chosen path Bill. We all suffer those dragons and try to slay them as best we can in favour of the better outcomes. Doing the the right thing the right way is easier said that done but the world of these crops will be better for your decision!

  4. Terry says:

    Oh this is the best news ever! I have sung your praises since discovering your work and am happy to be hearing from you again

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I too am self employed and understand the time suck that is social media. I have found that scheduled posts work best for me. I do a block of posts, maybe once every couple of weeks. I set it up so that two posts appear a week, but really I only had to log on ONCE in a three weeks time period

  6. Meal says:

    Well I’m Excite I just found you! I like you method of finding “new” plants. I’ve been playing with tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
    Social media is a distraction. Yet a real tool. It is a real rock in a hard place cause you can meet some great people, yet the rabbit holes are endless.

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