We read and hear that phrase so many times that it's become part of our daily vernacular.
However, the problem with this phrase is that it is often difficult to define "value" to the end user. In simple terms, however, once money finds its way back into our pockets, only then can a product or service truly considered as having added value.
Is the expectation any different in the feed and grain industry vs. the consumer retail arena? Absolutely not.
Some would contend the stakes are even higher as significant higher production costs, larger capital costs, marketplace volatility and weather make managing for quality grain more of an art form than an exact science.
Toss in a global economic recession into the mix and now the decision-making process becomes more difficult and the question then becomes a down-to-brass-tacks discussion of how much quality can I afford.
Who Drives Quality?
So what prompts mill managers, elevator operators and grain and biofuel processors to spend money on equipment and practices intended to enhance quality? It's the consumer who drives quality.
"Changes in what consumers expect from their food products are prime drivers behind the innovation necessary that allows grain products to meet those expectations both today and in the future," says Rob Ihrig, product management lead, Oilseed Crops, Monsanto. "These innovations also elevate the level of quality available to the processor and end user."
Ihrig has plenty of experience in bringing value to the marketplace, as his job responsibilities which, in their simplest form, include bringing products to the marketplace that growers want to grow and processors want to process. Now that's all fine and good but unless these products deliver downstream value (there's that "V" word again!) along the user chain, they won't ever see the light of day.
For example, Ihrig recounts how the genesis for Monsanto's Vistive™ soybeans was sparked by increasing pressure from consumer and health groups on food companies to address issues with transfats in foods. However, the solution wasn't easy, as consumers demanded to literally have their cake and eat it, too.
"Addressing the need for creating a product that would satisfy the needed positive impact on the hydrogenation process while at the same time delivering the same baking and flavor characteristics demanded by those same customers creates quite a challenge," Ihrig says. "However, with an end-goal target in our sights, we could better target our research and development process in looking at viable solutions to the consumer's dilemma, while still creating a compelling value proposition for growers and processors alike."
As companies like Monsanto have worked to enhance end-use characteristics in grains through either conventional breeding or biotech processes, the quality potential of grain has improved as well, in some cases quite dramatically.
Addition By Subtraction
At the producer level, grain quality has seen a steady increase thanks to numerous advances undertaken by private and public research aimed at creating a better growing environment for grain.
According to Dr. David Wright of the Iowa Soybean Association who also serves as executive director of the Plant Health Initiative on behalf of the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP), enhancements in grain quality are a direct correlation to reducing plant stressors.
"Really it's a simple addition by subtraction concept," says Wright. "By eliminating a variety of plant stresses, the seed is able to germinate under ideal conditions and the plant then can better achieve its optimum genetic potential.
"Primary stressors such as insect and weed pressures manifest itself early in the plants' life cycle," notes Wright. "Add disease stress and later flushes of insects and suddenly, the crop finds itself dealing with a lot. And that's even before you add stresses such as drought, excess moisture — like what was seen last year — or other environmental conditions."