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The Burbank plums and prunes have earned money for everyone except the originator. Introducers, growers, canners and shippers, transportation companies, dealers, and consumers have made and saved money from these fruits. The originator, on the other hand, as nearly as he can estimate, has received about 50 cents on each dollar invested in the work of plum development. My experiments altogether-nearly one-fifth of which have been devoted to plums and prunes have cost me very nearly $250,000. The income from the sale of new varieties has been approximately $100,000. Up to 1912 I was about $150,000 behind on all my experiments. But the loss on the plums has been less, probably, than that on a good many other lines of experiment, and there is reason to believe that varieties not yet introduced will presently bring a return that will more nearly balance the account. Meantime the sums earned for others by the Burbank plums and prunes after they have gone out into the world have been really significant, from whatever standpoint considered. As illustrating their earnings in a single field, we may note that in the season of 1912 there were 564 carloads of Burbank plums of different varieties, aggregating 396,133 crates, shipped from California alone to the eastern markets. This represented more than one-third of all the shipments of plums. The average price per crate received for all Burbank plums was $1.20, as against $1.03 the reported average for other varieties. The maximum price per crate for any Burbank plum was $3.25 (Wickson), as against a maximum of $3.04 for any other variety; the highest average prices per crate being respectively $1.71 (Maynard) and $1.45. The total wholesale price of the Burbank varieties of plums shipped in this single season was not far from half a million dollars. If individual varieties are under consideration, the plum specifically known as the Burbank excels any other single variety by a large margin; the figures being, for the Burbank, 116,764 crates and for its closest competitor 98,149, a difference in favor of the Burbank of 18,615 crates. If prices are taken into account, the lead of the Burbank becomes still more significant, the highest price per crate for this plum being $1.93, and its average price $1.12. The total revenue from shipments of this single variety of plum was more than $130,000. And all this, of course, refers to the Burbank plums merely as shipping plums from a single district. It takes no account of prunes, the handling of which constitutes an altogether independent industry. Nor does it, of course, refer in any way to the shipment of plums from any region except California. Yet the Burbank plums are grown everywhere, and in some remote regions as, for example, South Africa, they are raised on the largest commercial scale. The bushmen of Australia are perhaps as familiar with the deep yellow, juicy, tender but firm flesh, and the sweet aromatic flavor of this plum as are the orchardists of California. It is equally well-known in New Zealand, in England, in France, in Nova Scotia, and in Southern Canada, and in this country it has become the standard in all the states except Wyoming. The total number of nurserymen in America who list Japanese plums is 150, and of these 142 list the Burbank; a record not approached by any other plum.


But these figures, and any others of like character that might be collated, serve, after all, to give only a vague and general idea of the economic importance of the new plums. Statistics having to do with shipments to the great markets, even were they available for all territories, would tell but a small part of the story. The true benefits accruing from this work cannot be reduced entirely to figures. A large proportion of the earnings, for example, have been protective-in the nature of assuring large and regular yields of superior quality; thus giving significant returns each year instead of uncertain yields occasionally. Again, even the most elaborate statistics would entirely fail to present the facts at their true value, because the identity of a plum is often lost through the prevalent custom of renaming varieties. The Abundance plum, as an instance, has been designated "Botan," "Botankio," "Chase," "Yellow Japan," "Douglas," "Oval," and probably by other names by the growers and sometimes also by the nurserymen and dealers. The Wickson plum has been sold under the name "Eureka," and similar liberties have been taken to a greater or less extent with each of the 20 Burbank varieties that are prominent as shipping plums. Therefore the figures based on the records of distribution, growth, and sale of a variety are sure to be far below the correct figure. But most important of all is the fact that a very large part of the entire plum crop is grown for home consumption or for distribution in local markets of which no record is available. With the wide distribution of Burbank products over the entire world, in many cases in countries where no systematic public records are kept, there are unrecorded benefits, profits, and earnings to the extent of millions of dollars annually, of which no accurate estimate can be made. And, finally, even if complete up-to-date records of the earnings of the Burbank plums could be collated, the figures would give but a vague idea of the real importance, from a purely economic standpoint, of the work that has been accomplished, for the reason that it takes a long time to introduce a new fruit, whatever its importance, and the best Burbank plums and prunes have been developed within very recent years. Of my quartette of "best" plums, only the Wickson has been on the market long enough to acquire anything like the reputation and the vogue that its merits justify. As to the others, Formosa was introduced in 1906, Santa Rosa in 1907, and Beauty, perhaps the best of all, only in 1911. So whereas we find that the Wickson was shipped from California in 1912 to the extent of one hundred carloads, there were only two carloads of Formosa and fourteen carloads of Santa Rosa recorded, and of course Beauty is not represented at all. Obviously, then, the earning power of these newest and best plums is a matter for the future. When the statistics are collated, let us say for the year 1925, it will be possible to gain a clearer view of the real importance of these new productions. Of course, orchardists are proverbially conservative. Perhaps it is natural that they should be so, considering that they deal with trees that require some years to come into bearing. An orchard cannot be made in a season, like a grain field, but the rapid conquest effected by the Burbank plum and the Wickson leaves little room for doubt that my newest plums will make their way no less effectively in the course of the coming decade. Fortunately for the fruit grower, he may introduce these new Burbank varieties with less loss of time than usually attends the introduction of ordinary plums. All of the older varieties in an ordinary California plum orchard require five or six years growth before they commence to pay for themselves. But most of the new Burbank varieties will commence to bear heavily in the third or fourth season, and by the fifth or sixth year they will have produced as much as the ordinary plum orchard four or five years older.


Since I have spoken of the losses sustained by the plant originator in developing fruits that bring such large monetary returns to others, perhaps I should explain a little more at length why it is that the plant developer who experiments as I have done cannot hope for a quick financial return for his efforts. One chief reason why experimentation of this order does not pay is that it was done so comprehensively, thoroughly, and on so large a scale. Where a man conducts plum improvement, for example, as an adjunct to a nursery business, there is no reason why he might not eventually secure even a single improvement that could directly pay him for his care and expense in producing it. There would be no certainty as to this, to be sure, as the chance of securing a really good new variety is not better than about one in ten thousand. That is to say, in handling ten thousand seedlings, there would be no probability of securing more than a single good new variety. But, on the other hand, sometimes even a small lot of seedlings may give more than one good variety, as was the case with my original twelve seedlings from Japan. In any event, the nurseryman can carry out a line of experiment on a moderate scale without considerable monetary outlay. So at worst he will lose very little. But where innumerable crosses are made and thousands of seedlings are raised each year only to be destroyed; and where all needed improvements are worked for together as in the combination of a great number of species and varieties-instead of taking a certain established variety and attempting to make one or two improvements upon it-there must necessarily be a much greater proportion of expense. But, so far as my own experiments are concerned, the pioneer work has now been done. I have elsewhere told how the material has been gathered from all over the world, until the plums and prunes of my orchard carry hereditary strains in their germ-plasm from ancestors imported from five continents. And I have pointed out that there are thousands of new varieties among my plum trees that have exceptional qualities, and from the progeny of which, variously interblended, many new and important races of plums and prunes will doubtless be developed in the immediate future. The sum total of my work with the plums and prunes, judged by the record of actual introductions, comprises the development of only 62 new varieties. But it must be understood that these 62 introduced varieties are only the pick among thousands, very many of which were but slightly inferior to the ones chosen. And, as I said before, the final balance sheet for my work with this fruit cannot be struck for many years to come. My plum orchard might be compared, in this regard, to a large number of modern industries, manufacturing establishments, for example, which have a high first cost and which cannot be expected to pay more than the interest on the investment for a good many years, yet which may ultimately show a profit that will pay back the original expenditure and even give a balance on the credit side of the ledger.


There is, however, one feature of plant development that puts it on a different plane, as regards probable financial returns, from that occupied by most other fields of inventive or creative industry. This is the fact that nothing comparable to a patent can be obtained on new varieties of fruit trees or flowers, such as the developer of new, mechanical inventions or chemical combinations, or artistic productions can depend upon to guard his invention and make it at least probable that he will share in the profits that accrue from its introduction. The plant developer must either introduce his new varieties through direct sales to nurserymen and planters, or else sell them outright for a comparatively small sum to a wholesale dealer. In the latter case he receives a sum that is never large. In the former case his returns are altogether problematical, and at best there are only two or three years during which he has a partial monopoly of the sale of the product of his labors. In three or four years, according to the rapidity with which the new variety can be multiplied, orchardists who have purchased grafting stock can compete in the market with the original introducer. Suppose, for example, that I have a new plum that I decide to introduce directly. I sell grafting wood by the foot. The highest price I have ever received for grafting wood, even of the choicest new variety, is $10 a foot. This, to be sure, is at the rate of about $800,000 a cord, if you choose to reckon it that way; but unfortunately you sell only a very small fraction of a cord. There is not likely to be any very active demand for a new variety of plants, or until it has been tested out in several localities. Meantime, the first purchaser, in making the test, has grown a large quantity of twigs from his grafted cions; and with this, obviously, he can enter the market on an equal footing with the original producer. Thus, a single foot of wood gives enough buds to graft a strong, vigorous, young tree; and from that tree enough wood may be taken next year to graft nearly an acre of orchard. After that, of course, the supply is practically unlimited. Thus the cost of securing a plum or prune orchard of the very choicest variety is absolutely insignificant; to say nothing of the fact that the enterprising purchaser, when he has demonstrated the value of the new product, can sell grafting wood to his neighbors in such quantities as to pay back many times over his original outlay-even though, as sometimes happens, he makes the sales at only a fraction of the price charged by the original introducer. In this way, it is clear, any orchardist who purchases cions of a new stock may quickly enter into competition with the original producer or the firm that has purchased the right. Often the second man that comes into the field may take advantage of the advertising done by the first, and quite possibly make as great a profit as the producer and the original introducer. And each local nurseryman may in turn take up the work of distribution, supplying the local demand. So the few feet of grafting stock that the original plant developer sold for a mere fraction of what it had cost him to produce the new variety, have within a few years multiplied to make up the thrifty branches of scores or hundreds of orchards, until every one who desires the fruit is supplied, without an additional cent coming to the pocket of the originator. This was what I had in mind when I intimated in the beginning that the most successful new fruits, which bring fortunes to a large number of dealers and growers, may represent financial loss to the originator.


Not to dwell unduly on this aspect of the subject, however, let me point out a little more in detail some of the benefits conferred by new fruits having exceptional merits. For example, a fruit may make an exceptional profit for the grower merely because of the fact that it comes into bearing very early in the season, before the market is glutted with fruit of other varieties. The Burbank, Santa Rosa, Climax, and Formosa plums, among others, are striking examples of this feature, as they come into bearing very early. Several of these have come into the market at a time when it is nearly bare of fruit. Another advantage is secured to the fruit grower by varieties that are regular and abundant bearers. Regularity of bearing is a factor for which I have worked constantly, and it has been instilled into all my new varieties of plums. These trees are not constructed on the hit or miss plan. They can be depended on to give a crop each year. It requires no argument to show that the expense of starting an orchard can be paid much more rapidly by trees that will bear abundantly each season. An enormous crop every other year would not at all take the place of even a moderate crop every year. But, in point of fact, my new plums are not only regular bearers, but most abundant bearers as well. Sometimes the grower is deceived by receiving a large price for a variety of fruit that is produced in such small quantity as to bring a meager aggregate return. The wise orchardist, however, will look for a fruit that will produce abundantly and at the same time bring a good price per basket. The Tragedy at $2.00 a crate would generally pay much less than the Burbank at $1.00 a crate, owing to the difference in the productiveness of the two varieties. But, in point of fact, the Tragedy, even with its small production, averages (according to the returns of last year) only 19 cents a crate more than the Burbank. And of course the Burbank was one of my early introductions. Some of my newer plums quite outclass it in selling value. All of the most successful of my new plums are early bearers and produce large and attractive fruit. The purchaser desires a large, high-colored, handsome fruit, and he is not disappointed if he finds that it has excellent quality also. Then, in order that a fruit shall earn money for its grower, it must be adapted to stand shipment to a distant market. Many beautiful plums lack this quality and as a consequence never have been, or can become, valued fruits for commercial shipping by the carload. But my new plums have been developed with this need constantly in mind. I have recognized that a fruit to become of importance for shipping long distances must have a number of qualities that hitherto have not been required in fruit. It must be of texture that will not break down in handling and shipping; it must retain its flavor, or even have improved flavor if picked before it is quite ripe; and it must remain firm and hard not only throughout the long journey but during subsequent days until it can be placed among the retail distributors. Very few plums in existence today are wholly up to these standards of excellence. The Wickson, one of my early introductions, fulfills these conditions better than any other plum hitherto produced. But there are several among my prospective introductions that will excel even the Wickson. Often one new character in a plum, prune, or plumcot doubles its earning capacity. The shipping qualities of the Wickson; the color of the Santa Rosa; the flavor of the Geewhiz or Nixie; the bloom of the Plumcot which enables it to be placed on the market as fresh in appearance as when first taken from the tree-these are examples of characteristics that double the earning capacity of the fruit. Incidentally, we must not fail to note that improved varieties of plums and prunes have greatly enhanced the earnings of the transportation companies. Where fruit is shipped by the carload, it can be handled economically by the railways, and as transportation is an essential link between the producer and consumer, there is no difficulty experienced by the common carriers in securing an adequate price for their work. Another minor point that might readily be overlooked is that the Burbank plums increase the earnings of the retail dealer, who not only makes a direct profit from their sale, but so beautifies his exhibit by introducing these large and handsome fruits as to attract customers, and thus facilitate the sale of his less attractive fruit as well. Finally, the earnings of the Burbank plums advantage the ultimate consumer. The new plums can be produced so much more cheaply that sooner or later this reduction in cost of production will rebound to the benefit of the final purchaser. He gets the fruit at half the former price. The fruit itself is of greatly improved appearance and quality, yet it costs less than smaller, less attractive, and less highly flavored plums formerly cost. So in the end the consumer shares the profit of the Burbank fruits with all the other parties concerned. If in conclusion I revert to the statement that nobody is made financially poorer except the originator of the fruit, it is only that I may add that he also receives an adequate reward in the knowledge that he is a benefactor of all parties concerned and a detriment to none. If he can only pat himself on the back, while others may pat themselves on the purse, perhaps his satisfaction after all is not less than theirs.

This text is from: Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application. Volume 5 Chapter 8