GCQRI Day One – Afternoon Sessions & Thoughts

The afternoon is a little harder to write up. (The previous four posts covered the morning til lunch).

It is hard to really blog about the first post lunch session – which was more about conversations between participants here. I will try and summarise a few thoughts that I have about the whole thing at the end of this post.

When the presentations kicked back it was Dr Vincent Petiard, who spoke earlier in the day, talking about the decision tree used to create research projects. It was interesting to see the process that a large company goes through before trying to research a particular trait that they want to enhance.

One interesting thing he brought up was research that is a mixture of shared and unshared. He gave an example of tomato research where all participants shared their research on varieties and brix readings (brix being key when you want to turn your tomatos into sauce). All participants followed similar research but some individual companies tacked on additional research (glutamate levels for example) which they did not share with the group.

After that Dr Edwin Price talked about the Governance and Structure for the GCQRI. At this stage it is in proposal, rather than fixed. I’ll be honest and say that this kind of structuring and thought is entirely new to me. I’ve never really dealt with entities like this and I wouldn’t know what kind of alternatives exist.

In essence the Norman Borlaug institute would deal with the management side of things. They wouldn’t conduct research, instead deal with funding, proposals and results, as well as communication with the industry. Their is external auditing, both of finances and of ROI/success and suitability of the studies being done. I’m hoping someone else can write a bit more about this because I am not sure I have a lot to offer!

The final presentation covered funding. This is, of course, going to be extremely important and also somewhat controversial. The GCQRI is in a difficult place. I hope I can explain – the idea is to use what is called “Check-Off” funding.

This is a small tax – in this case the proposed rate is $0.005 (half a cent) per pound of coffee. This would be paid by the roaster into a fund managed by the GCQRI. In other industries the check-off is used extremely successfully and is usually taxed at the first point of trade – producer to buyer. In some industries these are mandated by law – you have to pay. Because coffee is produced outside of the US there is no way it could be mandated by law, so it would need to be voluntary.

The problem you have here is that this system allows free loaders. The GCQRI needs to make the information freely available to all in order for it to have the desired effect, so I can contribute nothing and still benefit from it. I do like the idea of a check-off though, because that way you pay appropriately and proportionately to the size of your business.

The alternatives would be through fund raising/grants etc. This would provide a less stable and dependable source of income – assuming you’d get any at all. I think it probably wouldn’t hurt to try to supplement the check-off funding with other monies.

Right now the GCQRI is clearly focused on North America. I hope that others in the world get involved and see a benefit to their contributions, that they see this kind of work as being both inexpensive and important. I don’t mind publicly committing Square Mile Coffee Roasters to supporting this if it goes ahead.

There are still a lot of details to be thrashed out – tomorrow is focused on discussion and actually trying to turn this into something real. I have a few thoughts at this stage in the game:

- This can’t just be a reaction to supply issues. The market is a free one, and will therefore rectify itself – certainly in the short to medium term. If we use supply as our only carrot on the stick then the project won’t be a long term one, and it won’t accomplish so much of what it could.

- Everyone here realises something needs to be done. There is a sense of need, if not quite urgency. It is also clear that this project must have shared value throughout the chain. The producers must also benefit from this. Everyone here has now thought about what would happen if we do nothing, and that hasn’t left any of us very positive about inaction.

- It is going to be hard to find the common ground. There are so many different companies represented here today from large multinationals, through to micro-roasters. We all have such different ideas of what speciality is, let alone what it should be.

- Funding is going to be the biggest issues. I don’t think we’ll struggle to identify projects. I think with the help of experienced people, like those at the Borlaug institute, the program would be well run. Sharing the research should not be too difficult. It will be getting the pot of money going, and keeping it going and showing good returns on people’s contributions.

There is a lot more to say – I just need to talk it out a bit more (Tom from Sweet Marias has been especially helpful so far!). Sleeping on it will probably help.

If people have questions: please leave a comment. If you want something asked to the group then I will do my best. If I have made a mistake about stuff – sorry, trying to post quickly is hard!

More tomorrow. Now cocktails!

4 Comments

  1. I think you’re doing a fantastic job, James. Thank you for helping keep everyone informed. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s work!

  2. James:

    Thank you for the extraordinary coverage of the GCQRI symposium. I look forward to reaching all your Day-One posts more carefully later today. Meantime, a burning question: what are they serving to the high priests of coffee quality at the event?

    Cheers,

    Michael

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