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Darwinian Business [Agriculture
Posted on December 2, 2014 @ 09:57:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my limits of biotech blog I reported on some of what I had learned from Ford Denison's book called Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture (2012). I have to return the book to the library so finished it off this morning as I felt it was worth completing. I am doing a mini review on the second part that I read in the last few days.

The book is a nice combination of scientific and imaginative exploration of where plant breeding is and could go with, and without, the assistance of biotechnology. It discusses agriculture at a very philosophical level, often in the context of the theory of natural selection, and includes both critical and supportive discussion of conventional agriculture, organic agriculture, and biotechnology. He discusses many interesting topics and research in support of his various arguments regarding the limits of biotechnology. I learned towards the end that he is not happy with the way biotech funding has usurped funding for other programs in an agricultural program. Apparently, programs like ecology and evolutionary biology (and applied cousins agronomy and plant breeding), are having a hard time because biotech projects are getting most of the life sciences funding from government these days. I can't confirm this or not, but the book does have this political aspect that I was not aware of until the very end.

Ford Denison sees the natural world as emerging from a seive that operates on the basis of 4 principles - competitive testing, bet hedging, tradeoffs, and plasticity. Species that emerge and persist are the result of brew consisting of competitive testing, bet hedging, tradeoffs, and plasticity. Regarding competitive testing, you don't get to exist just because you have always done so, you have to keep evolving to remain in the game. Regarding bet hedging, that is difficult to explain but I'll point out that diversification is key to hedging bets. Nature needs mutations and diversity to keep evolving. Regarding tradeoffs, we need to view anything that exists as the result of tradeoffs in the design of the plant, animal or microbe. The reason a wheat cultivar yields well under drought conditions but average under moist conditions may be because it needs a slower metabolism to be able to do so and this keeps yield in a conservative range even when water is available. You can't have everything - drought tolerance and high yield at the same time. The best selection is the one with the best set of tradeoffs, not the one with the best score on one dimension. Finally, regarding plasticity, species and businesses exist because they can respond to change. Some species reach the limits of their plasticity and cannot survive any longer. Others may have adaptations that provide the ability to survive under lower or high temperature limits, more or less water, more or less sun, etc... Businesses need to be plastic like plants and animals in order to survive.

If you want to evaluate a business using a Darwinian test, you might rate that business using scales designed to measure:

Competitive testing.

lens, the 4 dimensions that you would peer into would consist of competitive testing dimension, bet hedging dimension, the tradeoffs dimension, and the plasticity dimension.

of your viewplane would consist of competitive testing, bet hedging,

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