Spraying oilseed rape© Tim Scrivener

Agrochemical group Belchim aims to be one the fastest growing in the industry, with a bulging pipeline of new products supplied from some of its key partners.

The Belgium-based company plans to double in size in five years and sees a near 20% annual growth in the UK driven by two newly-launched potato products and more to come.

The key to success is its link to Japanese manufacturers that have given Belchim access to different molecules, such as in its new Kunshi potato blight fungicide.

“Our pipeline is very large and very innovative and we are confident we can double our annual turnover in five years,” the group’s founder and managing director Dirk Putteman tells Farmers Weekly in Belgium.

The group is a relative minnow in the industry, with world number one agrochemical group Syngenta having more than 25 times the annual sales of the Belgium group, but many would envy Belchim’s growth prospects.

“We intend to introduce a new compound each year.”
Dirk Putteman, Belchim

While industry giants such as BASF, DuPont and Dow AgroSciences, have seen sales fall as farm commodity prices slide, the Belgian group sees its current €400m (£280m) annual sales jumping to €800m (£560m) by 2020.

Unlike some smaller agrochemical groups, it is not reliant on post-patent or generic products, but has active ingredients largely coming from Japan to drive its growth.

Mr Putteman points out that of the 35 agrochemicals in the industry’s near-term pipeline, some 19 are coming out of Japan, where the group has close links with Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha (ISK).

One of the group’s two big UK launches this season – Kunshi – has an ISK active called fluazinam, together with the older active ingredient cymoxanil as a potato fungicide.

Key facts on Belchim

  • Founded by Dirk Putteman in 1987 as a distribution company in Londerzeel.
  • Partnered with agrochemical group ISK of Japan in 1995.
  • Makes first sales in UK and Ireland in 2003.
  • Worldwide workforce numbers 360, with 100 in Londerzeel. Workforce of 14 in UK, headquartered at St Neotts, Cambridgeshire.
  • Belchim Crop Protection is owned 75% by its management and 25% by ISK Biosciences.
  • In turn, Belchim management owns 4.45% of ISK, and 20% of Indian chemical manufacturing group Deccan, which makes some of its products.
  • Worldwide sales in year to end September 2015 close to €400m (£280m).

The other, Praxim, containing the residual metobromuron pre-emergence herbicide, is an old Novartis active ingredient that Belchim took over and developed for the market.

In addition, the group has emergency clearance for another ISK product, Teppeki (flonicamid), as a non-neonicotinoid insecticide to control aphids carrying turnip yellows virus in oilseed rape crops.

Only last week, the group showcased new potato herbicide proflufen-ethyl, which will be ready for use in spring 2016, and comes from the European arm of another Japanese group, Nichino Europe.

This can be used as a pre-emergence herbicide and haulm desiccant in potatoes, and will replace herbicide Spotlight in its portfolio due to a terminated deal with US group FMC.

The group has been traditionally strong in potato products in the UK with Ranman (cyazofamid) blight fungicide, and is the second biggest seller of potato crop protection products after Syngenta. It is still relatively weak in cereals.

In the group’s immediate pipeline there in an insecticide and a maize herbicide set for a 2017-18 launch. An oilseed rape fungicide aimed at controlling sclerotinia is pencilled in for 2019.

“We intend to introduce a new compound each year, mostly from ISK, which has one of the strongest pipelines in Japan,” he says.

Belchim has other partners such as Japan’s Mitsui, but a partnership with FMC was ended this year as the US group moved to focus on generics rather than new products.

These partnerships mean about 60% of the group’s sales come from innovative new chemistry products, while older reregistered products account for 20% and generics make up the remaining 20%.

This helps the group avoid the pricing pressure in the generics market, while its lack of hefty overheads and lack of exposure to volatile Latin American currency helps it avoid suffering the pitfall of its bigger rivals.

Mr Putteman says the group has a balanced portfolio made up of 40% herbicides, 40% fungicides and 20% insecticides, but would like to have a greater presence in the cereals market.

As part of its expension drive, it set up a 10ha trial farm site in 2006 close to the group’s headquarter in Londerzeel, just north of Brussels, where trials station manager Marc Willocx oversees 2,300 different plots for research and demonstration purposes.