Syngenta’s bulging agchem pipeline offers hope for growers

Agrochemicals and seeds giant Syngenta is set to launch a string of new products, including two SDHI fungicides and 10% higher-yielding wheat to help hard-pressed growers.

The Swiss-based group is planning for the SDHIs to hit the market next year and expects new high-yielding hybrid wheats to be launched in western Europe in five years’ time.

An insecticide with a new mode of action, two herbicides and a further SDHI that could be used in potatoes are all possible over the next decade as the group sees its strongest pipeline for 15 years.

A busy year for Syngenta

  • August 2015 – Monsanto drops its $46bn (£32bn) bid for Syngenta after a four-month battle in which Syngenta consistently rejected the takeover approach.
  • October 2015 – Syngenta warns of a fall of about 5% in its reported 2015 underlying operating profits, while chief executive Michael Mack steps down after criticism of his decision to not negotiate with Monsanto.
  • November 2015 – Reports that China’s biggest chemical company ChemChina, and the majority owner of Adama, had made a $42bn (£29bn) bid for Syngenta
  • December 2015 – Dow Chemicals and DuPont announced plans to merge and then split into three groups, one of which would be the world’s biggest supplier of seeds and agrochemicals.

Jon Parr, chief operating officer at the world’s largest agrochemicals group, says the company will be launching innovative products to help farmers cope with the downturn in grain prices.

“We believe our research and development pipeline over the next 10 years is very strong,” he tells Farmers Weekly on a visit to London from the group’s headquarters in Basle.

See also: Dow-Dupont merger could create global farm supply giant

The company ,which already sells Amistar and Bravo fungicides, Defy and Topik herbicides along with Hallmark and Plenum insecticides, is set for a number of new product launches.

First up will be the group’s blockbuster SDHI fungicide solatenol, which has just been approved by the EU and which Mr Parr expects will be supplied to UK growers by spring 2017.

This second-generation SDHI is claim to be “best in class” at controlling septoria and rusts in cereals and is expected to grow to twice the size of its earlier SHDI-containing product Seguris and peak at $200m (£139m) annual sales in Europe within three years.

“We believe this will be a step forward in performance compared with what is on the market. It will be a nice addition to the farmer’s toolbox,” he says.

Solatenol was the group’s biggest ever product launch when introduced in Brazil as Elatus in 2014, racking up $300m (£209m) of sales in its first year and then more than $400m (£278m) in 2015.

A second SDHI, sedaxane, is expected to be launched in autumn 2017 as a cereal seed treatment aimed at improving early seed vigour and establishment, and has been already launched in France as Vibrance in autumn 2015.

In addition, Mr Parr expects another SDHI to come through, which could be a potato product in three to four years, an insecticide from a new class of chemistry in four to five years and two new herbicides in seven to 10 years’ time.

Over on the seed side, where the group sells winter wheat varieties Reflection and Gallant, he is expecting the group’s wheat breeding programme to launch its first commercially viable hybrid in Europe and the US by the end of this decade.

“What we are excited about is hybrid wheat, which is five years away. With hybrid wheat you could see a 10% step-change in yields,” he says.

This could do for wheat yields what hybrids did for maize and latterly oilseed rape and winter barley, and so accelerate the slow yield gains seen from traditional wheat breeding.

On the winter barley side, the group has a new generation of hybrids, such as Bazooka and Belfry, available this autumn that show yields above its established variety Volume.

Mr Parr says the pipeline is the strongest since Syngenta was formed in 2000 from the merger of the agribusinesses of Novartis and AstraZeneca, and comes at a time when the whole industry is under pressure from lower commodity prices and weak currencies in key markets.

In addition, Syngenta has had a busy year in 2015, fighting a four-month takeover battle against Monsanto before the US seeds giant dropped its $46bn (£32bn) bid for the Swiss group in August.

In October, the group warned of a drop of about 5% in its 2015 underlying operating profits, while its chief executive Michael Mack stepped down after the bruising battle with Monsanto.

Signs the industry is looking to improve efficiencies and cut costs to survive in the downturn came in December when US giants Dow Chemicals and DuPont decided to merge to potentially create the world’s biggest supplier of agrochemicals and seeds.

The plan is to split the agriculture businesses from the chemicals interests of the two US groups and create a new number three in the global agrochemical industry behind Syngenta and Bayer, while making a stronger number two in the world seeds market behind Monsanto and ahead of Syngenta.

“Dow-DuPont is a very significant move and a sign that the industry is looking for more efficiencies,” Mr Parr adds.

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