Advanced Farming Technology Connects Preference to Profitability

Image Credit: Matt Hayes/Cornell University

Thomas Björkman, professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, studies broccoli in a field at Cornell AgriTech. Image Credit: Matt Hayes/Cornell University

Breeders Are Always Looking For Wider Adaptation

Perfection is subjective. For commercial farming, there are many traits and characteristics that factor into an ideal product. Commercial growers want a profitable harvest which requires consistent uniformity in shape, size, color, and yield, with longer field holding and good ship-ability. For consumers, desirable traits are attractive produce with good taste, high quality, and predicable shelf life. The challenge for plant breeders is to provide reliable seed product with all of the desirable traits. While research and breeding is the gold standard, a new emerging farming technology can help consumers, growers, and seed producers get closer to understanding what traits make the perfect seed product.

Consumers Drive Market Characteristics

For consumers, the appearance is the first way that they evaluate the quality of a product and is the number one criteria for making purchasing decisions. Why is this a problem? Breeders are always trying to respond to consumer demand and commercial vegetable grower’s needs but evaluation lacks collaboration and standardization across markets and preferences.

Breeders, growers, and consumers don’t talk to each other or evaluate with the same criteria. Desirable traits vary by region, perceptions, and market trends.


Seed producers are constantly evaluating product performance and using that to predict market viability. The traditional method involves putting new and existing products through a field trial with researchers travelling between different growing locations, evaluating relative maturity, recording performance, documenting and reporting on the product’s performance. This is a valuable part of research. It could be improved upon through expanding the criteria of evaluation by bringing in the grower’s and consumer’s opinions at this stage.

Emerging Farming Technology

A new study at Cornell University called the Eastern Broccoli Project may be the beginning for consumers, breeders, and growers sharing data on a product’s viability. The new software makes it possible to evaluate a product across market dimensions, spanning different growing conditions.

Research in Evaluation Software in Testing

Researchers from Cornell University are currently evaluating broccoli, using a free, open source software they have developed that allows breeders, growers, and consumers to standardize an evaluation of a product, using criteria from all their perspectives. The new farming technology called RateRvaR, prioritizes what is determined to be desirable traits from each individual input.

In the study, broccoli breeders can select traits and include multiple people to perform the same evaluation. The program will then analyze that data from all input to determine which traits are more or less important in predicting overall quality, partly by prioritizing the traits that are easier to judge objectively, such as size or color. From this evaluation, breeders can focus on those characteristics that through consensus, are prioritized with the highest value in commercial farming.

By using RateRvaR, breeders can take out the human bias and focus on traits that matter. It creates an efficient and consistent scoring guide that many breeders can collaborate on. This could revolutionize breeding as it reveals which traits breeders can make progress with, and which traits don’t really matter.