The world’s agricultural production system must double its output in the next 25 years to meet the needs of a population that’s expected to increase twofold in that relatively short time span.
The demand for fresh water from the industry that uses more than 70 percent of the world’s supply makes the task even more daunting, says Craig Sandoski, Southern Research and Development manager for Syngenta.
Sandoski, along with representatives from Dupont Crop Protection and Monsanto, offered unique perspectives on how the agricultural industry in general and the traditional crop protection business in particular will meet the next decade’s challenges. They spoke at a recent agricultural technical conference at the Texas A&M-Commerce Campus.
Sandoski says preparing for the future requires identifying the coming demands on agriculture. Those include:
∑ The health of the crop protection industry ∑ ∑ The challenges of bio-technology acceptance ∑ ∑ Population growth ∑ ∑ The influence on the environment ∑ The crop protection industry, he says, must continue to evolve to meet those challenges.
He says the rise of biotech has already altered the landscape for chemical companies. As farmers switch to biotechnology to protect crops from insects, diseases and weeds, chemistry companies lose some of their traditional business.
"Now, proprietary products account for only 25 percent of the crop protection business," he says. "Generics make up about 66 percent. That change has made chemistry cheaper for users but it has had a somewhat negative effect on the industry’s research and development funding."
He says reduced commodity prices also change the "perception of the realistic value of crops and the chemistry necessary to protect them."
He says crop protection materials will decrease in value as part of the company’s portfolio as seed products play a bigger role.
"We’re all trying to get a bigger slice of a smaller pie," he says. "That means a flat market for the next few years."
Managing for a downturn will be critical, Sandoski says, "as more products become generic."
Long-term effect could be reduced funding for research and development. "I hope industry analysts are correct and that the decline flattens out within a few years."
He says the role of universities in research and development also concerns industry observers. "We’ve always relied on universities to test and recommend products. They face decreased funding for research and Extension."
Cost of re-registration, he says, could limit the number of products available, "if those products don’t produce revenue. We see a need for alternate technologies but will it be there when growers need it?"
Sandoski says resistance issues drive the need for research and development. "The first case of glyphosate resistance showed up in 2000. In 2003, 13 states reported resistance."
Those resistance issues create a demand for new products. "Unfortunately, we have no silver bullets in the pipeline. But we can take steps to delay the problem."
He says users must practice product stewardship. "If you abuse it, you lose it," he says.
He also pledges that Syngenta will continue its "innovative solutions to problems strategy with both conventional chemistry and other avenues and markets to capitalize on food and feed crop production, in both crop protection and seed business enterprises.
Sandoski says in the future high value technology will aim past the farm gate to processors and others higher up in the food delivery system.
"We want to provide value-added products and will be partners in the food processing chain."
He says Syngenta, from 2005 through 2011, will focus on new technology, new markets and seed.
He says biotech products in the pipeline include golden rice, corn rootworm resistant maize, lepidoptera resistant maize and cotton, disease resistant wheat and plant manufactured pharmaceuticals.
He says increasing vitamin A content in rice will be a key goal.
And corn rootworm and cotton lepidoptera resistant products should be available by 2007. Following those will be wheat resistant to fusarium head blight.
Sandoski says farmers already understand the value of biotechnology. "They have benefited from lower costs and better yields from input traits. Now, we will concentrate on output traits to provide more nutritional foods and pharmaceutical plants. Those will provide new sources of revenue for Syngenta.
"We see tremendous potential for humanity with pharmaceutical plants," he says. We have to challenge the view that bio-technology can benefit only growers."
Farmers, in fact, may not see immediate benefits from the pharmaceutical business, he says. "A few specialized growers, under close control, may produce pharmaceutical crops," he says.
"Meanwhile, we’re still discovering and introducing new pesticides."
He says a new maize variety will feature rapid growth and will be an asset to the ethanol industry. "It could reduce the cost of ethanol production by 10 percent," he says.