A lot has happened across the world of agriculture the past two years. This fact was acknowledged by David Hollinrake, President of Syngenta Seeds, as he kicked off the 2018 Syngenta Media Summit in Minneapolis, titled “A New Era in Agriculture Innovation.” In particular, he pointed to the crop protection/seed industry’s rate of consolidation among companies over this time frame.
“The reason we’ve seen six companies become four is largely because of scale,” Hollinrake said. “Crop protection companies like Syngenta only tend to bring forward one in 10,000 of the products we discover. And as the costs of doing this have increased, the only answer is for the companies to increase their scale.”
In Syngenta’s case, this meant completing a merger with ChemChina, although this was a less-intensive consolidation compared to others in the market, Hollinrake said. “Syngenta remains mostly the same vs. the other players in the market. And other things have remained the same — we are looking for innovation and investing in the future of agriculture,” he said.
He added that innovation will be the key to dealing with many of the trends currently shaping today’s agricultural marketplace. In fact, along with Vern Hawkins, President of Syngenta Crop Protection, Hollinrake discussed five key trends to watch. The first of these is the demand for agriculture.
“The world’s population will increase to 9 billion, with a growing middle class that desires an improved and more diverse diet,” Hawkins said. “At the same time, there will be less highly productive land available for agriculture. And the demand for outputs will rise approximately 60%.”
The second trend to watch will be a convergence of current and emerging technologies for agriculture. “There will be step-change improvements made in yield and quality, with shorter development cycles,” Hollinrake said. “The learning curve will create cost efficiencies, and new tools will help grow crops more efficiently.”
Growth in Precision Agriculture
Third on the list, according to Hawkins, will be changes in farming practices and technologies, particularly precision agriculture and automation. “Precision farming will continue to increase proficiencies in seeding, fertilizing, and crop protection,” he said. “The increased use of sensors and connected farming implements will lead to ‘intelligent equipment’ able to control machines via two-way communication. The growth in autonomous machines will decrease the need for manpower on an operation.”
The fourth change will come in the farming structures themselves, Hollinrake predicted. “Farm consolidation will continue as labor shortages and economics force aging farmers to sell,” he said. “New models for running the businesses will emerge, with cooperatives and farmers sharing equipment, labor, and professional management. There will be multiple generations within one operation, and farmers as CEOs will be the new normal.”
Last but not least, Hawkins said, agriculture will have to deal with “off the farm” demands from consumers and the general buying public. “There is an increased demand for locally grown, non-genetically modified, and organic crops driving consumer choices, influence, and government regulations, leading to innovation delays, bans, and trade regulations,” he said. “But organic crops produce less than 50% of conventional yields. Modern agriculture will be required to feed the world of the future.”
Seed, Crop Protection Focus
For its part in tying into these key agricultural trends, Syngenta is busy developing several new seed and crop protection products for the industry. In fact, according to Hawkins, the company annually spends approximately $1.3 billion in research and development to discover new agricultural offerings, with the focus primarily on corn and soybeans.
According to Ian Jepson, Head of Trait Research and Developmental Biology Site Business Head for Research Triangle Park, one of the company’s current areas of development is in protein engineering to deliver novel insecticidal proteins to the seed. “These new traits can deal with a range of pests without affecting beneficial insects,” Jepson said. “We have proteins that can kill the most resistant pests now.”
And more is on the way in the seed arena. In fact, according to Dr. Duane Martin, Commercial Traits Manager, the company already has products to deal with rootworm control below ground (Agrisure Duracade) and water challenges (Agrisure Artesian). “Next up will be the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology to improve seed traits,” Martin said. “Countries such as the U.S., Japan, and Argentina seem to be accepting the use of this technology for agriculture. But that’s not happening in Europe so far.”
In the crop protection area, Syngenta, like many ag companies, is trying to help growers deal with a host of herbicide-resistant weeds. According to Dane Bowers, Technical Product Lead, Herbicides, these weeds have evolved to be able to deactivate herbicides metabolically “just like the crops we have engineered.”
As such, the industry has been developing new cropping systems tied to herbicides to try to combat this problem. One such effort involved the introduction of dicamba-resistant crops back in 2017. In 2019 Syngenta hopes to join this market by introducing Tavium Plus VaporGrip technology. A blend of dicamba and S-metolachlor, Tavium is currently awaiting governmental approval for use. “Right now, we believe Tavium will gain this approval during the first quarter of 2019,” Bowers said. “This means it should be available for farmers to use during the 2019 growing season.”
In fungicides, Syngenta is preparing to introduce Miravis Ace for the cereals market. According to Dr. Eric Tedford, Fungicide Technical Product Lead, Miravis Ace features the active ingredient pydiflumetofen and can help control head scab in wheat. “There are very few fungicides available for this disease on the market today,” Tedford said. “When managing head scab, every day counts. Miravis Ace allows application as early as 50% heading, improving a grower’s ability to treat it while ensuring grain quality and protecting yield.”
In conclusion, Hollinrake said, Syngenta will continue to work toward helping agriculture build this new future, one product and trait at a time. “Right now, there’s no better place to be than agriculture for us,” he said.