When you consider their respective backgrounds, it’s little wonder why Dow AgroSciences and new President/CEO Tim Hassinger ended up together. Both share a lifelong passion for all things agricultural.
From the company’s perspective, this agricultural focus is evident in the main lobby of the headquarters building, located in Indianapolis, IN. Just beyond the reception desk, visitors will find mounted plaques detailing Dow AgroSciences’ 26-year history. These contain information (and a few examples) of key company products and agricultural developments. There’s also a wall just beyond these honoring key agricultural patents held by the company (and pictures of the researchers that pioneered them). These and other agricultural innovations have helped Dow AgroSciences to achieve sales of more than $7 billion by the close of 2014.
Also on these signposts are photographs of the people who have led Dow AgroSciences throughout its history. This now includes Hassinger, who assumed the head spot on May 1, 2014. While his personal background cannot be found on these lobby plaques, Hassinger isn’t shy about sharing the path he took to the top job at one of the world’s leading crop protection/seed companies.
“I grew up on a farm in Central Illinois where my family raised livestock and grew corn and soybeans,” he says. “From early on, I knew I wanted to have a career in agriculture. I didn’t have the desire to farm myself, but I did have a desire to be a part of the farming process.”
So when he graduated from high school, Hassinger enrolled at the University of Illinois and started working towards a degree in agricultural economics. “I went to school with the intent of becoming a farm manager someplace,” he says.
Yet, circumstances took Hassinger in a slightly different direction. During his junior year in college, Hassinger became a summer intern with The Dow Chemical Co., the parent company to Dow AgroSciences — an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. “Back then, companies like Dow offered their summer employees a job at the end of their internships. So I thought ‘why not?’”
Upon graduation, Hassinger joined Dow as a sales representative for its territory in Northern Illinois. Then, when Dow AgroSciences was first formed in 1989 as the DowElanco joint venture, he transitioned to that company, working in supply chain management, marketing/research and district sales manager roles.
From there, Hassinger tried his hand at the growing global segment of Dow AgroSciences’ business. In 2001, he was named global business leader in the insecticides Global Business Unit. He then moved to China for a few years before returning the U.S. to take responsibility for the company’s Latin America, Europe and Pacific Regions businesses. Finally, when former President/CEO Antonio Galindez announced his retirement in March 2014, Hassinger was named as his successor.
An Unfailing Focus
Given that both company and man have been so focused on agriculture throughout their respective timelines, it should come as no surprise what single word Hassinger says best describes his vision for Dow AgroSciences in 2015.
“We are focused,” he says. “We are an organization that has a significant amount of new technology for agriculture that’s coming forward. We are very focused on what technologies we are selecting, what geographies we are focusing on and what crops we are focusing on.”
According to Hassinger, an example of this new technology is the Enlist Weed Control System. “This is a technology we at Dow AgroSciences are very excited about,” he says.
Combining both of the company’s key markets for seed and crop protection products, the Enlist system includes Enlist Duo herbicide, which is a blend of new 2,4-D choline and glyphosate featuring Colex-D Technology, and Enlist-tolerant crops such as soybeans, corn and cotton. At the present time, the EPA has approved the use of Enlist Duo with Enlist corn and soybeans, with cotton still pending. The company has also obtained federal registration in 15 key corn and soybean producing states such as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
Despite these approvals, however, Dow AgroSciences is taking what it calls a stewarded approach to the Enlist system’s introduction to the marketplace. “We believe this is necessary because we are still working on gaining the needed import approvals for Enlist crops from countries such as China,” says Hassinger.
So for 2015, Dow AgroSciences will be extra cautious. According to Damon Palmer, director of marketing, U.S. Seeds, the company is insisting that growers who plant Enlist corn only use it for animal feed on their own farms. Also, growers should make certain there is at least a 660-foot isolation zone between Enlist hybrids and other crops. “And Dow AgroSciences will make in-season visits to these farms to make sure that these protocols are being followed,” says Palmer.
However, once the company obtains more widespread approvals for the Enlist system — both in the Americas and for overseas markets — Palmer anticipates these initial restrictions will be altered accordingly. “This will probably start changing in future seasons,” he says.
More Pipeline Developments
Of course, the Enlist system is only one of the new agricultural technologies Dow AgroSciences has in the pipeline for 2015 and beyond. According to its own sales data, crop protection products make up the lion’s share of Dow AgroSciences sales (approximately 78% based upon 2014 sales figures). Indeed, during its 2014 media event, Dow AgroSciences representatives said “here at Dow, we have more new products in our pipeline than we’ve ever had.”
Hassinger emphasizes this point. “As the agricultural industry has gone through its growth period the past five years or so, we’ve been able to accumulate the best discovery pipeline we’ve ever had,” he says. “This is an opportunity for us to capitalize on these growth areas. We need to ramp up and launch all of these new technologies that are in front of us.”
And this is indeed what Dow AgroSciences is planning to do over the next few years with numerous product debuts. First up is PowerCore. Being introduced in conjunction with Enlist corn in 2015, PowerCore is an aboveground insecticide that uses Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control aboveground insects. “PowerCore is for growers who want to guard against aboveground insects such as cutworm, European corn borer and earworm without using some kind of below ground option,” says Palmer.
Also in the insecticide category is Isoclast active (sulfoxaflor). Successfully launched in 22 countries, with 11 added in 2015, Isoclast is an insecticide that can be used to control sap-feeding insects such as sugarcane aphids. This fact worked in the brand’s favor during late 2014, says Hassinger, as a severe sugarcane aphid infestation in the Southwest threatened to wipe out many sorghum acres. “Isoclast was found to be very effective in controlling this pest when other crop protection products failed,” he says. “Impacted states applied for and received EPA Section 18 exemptions to use Isoclast in a product called Transform. Transform helped sorghum growers save their crops in those regions.”
On the herbicide side of the ledger, Dow AgroSciences has two new products expected to launch between 2015 and 2021. The first is Quelex, powered by Arylex active, a new broadleaf weed control for postemergence use in crops such as wheat and barley. The other will bring Rinskor (arylpicolinate), a new active ingredient for postemergence control of grasses, broadleaves and sedges in rice.
Finally, Dow AgroSciences is developing a new cereal fungicide for the European market. This as-yet unnamed brand should be introduced in 2018 or 2019.
A Changing Market
Of course, many of these new pipeline products were being developed during what some observers have called “the new golden age for agriculture.” As commodity prices for corn, soybeans and wheat stayed at or near record highs, grower-customers spent lavishly on crop inputs, new equipment and precision ag technologies. They also seemed more willing to try new products and production methods as well, say observers.
But now, commodity prices have fallen more than 50% from their high water marks, which have many growers scaling back their spending habits of the past few seasons. “Commodity prices where they are is presenting a challenge to the whole agricultural market,” says Brian Barker, general manager, U.S. Seeds. “But there will always be some kind of challenge that comes at us every year — as retailers, farmers or basic suppliers like ourselves. You just have to stay close to your customers and the market to keep finding new opportunities.”
Hassinger agrees. “As the pace of agricultural growth has slowed down, being able to bring all these new technologies to a market that is flat is a real challenge for companies like ours,” he says. “But in this kind of environment, I think it’s more important to make sure we differentiate ourselves. As always, the big question we need to answer for our customers is what value we bring them that no one else can.”
Besides its product offerings, both present and future, another way Dow AgroSciences has been able to differentiate itself from other crop protection product/seed suppliers ties back to its workers. “I’ve been privileged to work with some of the best people in agriculture here at Dow AgroSciences,” says Hassinger. “That’s a big part of the reason I came back here for my career path.”
Many agricultural companies during the past 15 years have found it a challenge to find and keep experienced workers on their staffs. But according to Hassinger, Dow AgroSciences has been able to largely avoid this issue in part because of its well-established summer intern program.
“I came onboard through this program at Dow in the 1980s and we’ve continued to maintain a very active summer intern program since that time,” he says. “This has not only allowed us to fulfill jobs during our company’s busier times of the year, but served as a great recruiting tool to find new talent. We’ve done a lot of hiring of new employees coming right out of some of the nation’s best universities.”
In addition, Dow AgroSciences also gets some of its workers through what Hassinger calls the “experienced new hire” effort. “These are workers who come to Dow AgroSciences from another company in a related field, but want to have the opportunity to start a career focusing on agriculture instead,” he says.
Looking To The Future
Having spent his entire life working towards furthering the agricultural cause, Hassinger doesn’t see product innovations, problem-solving or finding employees as his biggest challenges as the new president/CEO of Dow AgroSciences. Instead, he believes outside influencers who don’t necessarily agree with modern agricultural practices for whatever reason pose a greater threat. For example, he points to the ongoing resistance by various trade groups and many consumers to biotech crop use.
“What’s critical for us as an industry is when it comes to the regulatory processes we deal with, we have to be predictable, transparent and have everything be science-based,” says Hassinger. “When you do not have those three factors present, then the process tends to become more about political influence. That’s the biggest concern I have. Is it really an argument against science or is the other party just anti-big business or mistrustful of government agencies? I think that’s something our entire industry needs to be worried about.”
Beyond dealing with these day-to-day challenges, Hassinger is confident Dow AgroSciences will continue to build upon its historical place in the agricultural world for a long time to come. “Dow AgroSciences’ legacy will be playing a key role in contributing to the societal challenge to feed the world,” he says. “That’s my vision for this company as it moves into the future.”