17 November 1995

Conference to ask: Where is chemical industry headed?

Next week the worlds pesticide industry visits Brighton for the British Crop Protection Council conference. Charles Abel and Andrew Blake preview two key sessions

WHERE will the agrochemicals industry be in 20 years time? That is the question four leading speakers aim to answer at the conference.

"The idea is to stimulate discussion on where the industry is headed," says organiser Dr Anne Buckenham, deputy director of the British Agrochemicals Association. There seems to be some consensus, she comments. The speakers expect public pressures on pesticides to grow. They also suggest products will be offered as "tools" for integrating into specific strategies, rather than cover-all solutions.

But views on the nature of the industry itself vary greatly. According to Jules Pretty, a director at the International Institute for Environment and Develop-ment in London, sustainable farming is the goal. The move to introduce lower input techniques on all farms will be driven by consumer concerns already being expressed, he says.

Product use will fall, with little impact on profitability, he suggests. That will be largely thanks to greater provision of technical support to develop local solutions rather than all-encompassing, ready-made technology.

Kurt Kusgen, European marketing director for Bayer, disagrees. He expects agriculture to split, with unsupported, intensive cropping on the most economically viable land. Less productive areas will switch to less intensive, environmental programmes.

Restructuring will continue among makers, although individual product deals will become more common as a way of maximising sales opportunities for new, incre-asingly specific pesticides, he says. Independent consultant Allan Woodburn, of Edinburgh, reckons manufacturers will have to become extremely flexible. A more competitive market will mean survivors need to respond to changes – not just in technology, markets, generic products and regulatory demands but the weather, agricultural practices and product demand as well. Furthermore, products will only be available on prescription, thereby preventing farmers from making their own recommendations.

Barry Thomas, of AgrEvo UK, believes legislation will continue to dog the industry. But it could result in more effective registration processes if it leads to wider harmonisation.

Mutual recognition of tests in the EU and USA could cut development and registration costs and make product development easier, comments Dr Buckenham.

But Dr Thomas worries that political sensitivity will outweigh scientific logic. It is of "fundamental importance" that science prevails, he argues. &#42

&#8226 Pesticide "tools" used for farm-specific solutions.

&#8226 Prescription-only products.

&#8226 Public pressure likely to outweigh scientific fact.

&#8226 EU/US harmonisation could cut development costs.

&#8226 More R&D aimed at tropical and semi-arid agriculture.

Dr Anne Buckenham, deputy director of the BAA… seeking a vision of what the future holds.