UK arable growers could lose out with changing crop protection market

 Europe will cease to be the largest market for crop protection products in the next 10 years, so changing the emphasis on R&D investment, with growers seeing fewer new actives, particularly those aimed directly at UK-specific problems.

“Currently, Europe accounts for 31.6% of our sales,” Syngenta UK’s managing director James Barkhouse told delegates at the AICC conference near Coverntry. “But there’s been very strong growth in emerging markets, where sales have more than doubled, and that growth is expected to continue.”

These rapidly developing markets include Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, he said. “They will overtake Europe soon and have a higher spend.”

This will have implications for product development, he continued. “It takes 10 years to bring a new active ingredient to the market, and then it has seven years of patent life. This process costs us £164m ($256m), so we need sales of £39m ($60m) per year simply to achieve a 3% return on our investment.”

But in a high-risk market, that return on investment needs to be 16-17%, he added.

“This is where the calculations fall down on blackgrass control products,” he explained. “The market isn’t worth enough to an agrochemical manufacturer, as blackgrass isn’t a global problem. So it isn’t a top R&D priority.”

The crop protection market is becoming increasingly competitive, continued Mr Barkhouse. “Product supply exceeds demand, and our competitors are intent on driving volume. The generics sector is expanding in capacity as many major products are coming off-patent, with most of them not being replaced.”

Furthermore, pipelines are short of new active ingredients, he said. “The numbers of new products coming to market each year is falling.”

Syngenta’s customers are changing too, said Mr Barkhouse. “Farmers are running bigger, more specialised operations and they are much more profit-focused then before.”

Against this background, he recognised the role of the independent agronomist. “There’s growing demand for untainted, unbiased advice, not just for agronomy, but in other areas of the farm business too.”


With pulses, the loss of all the “cheap and cheerful” herbicides and no new products means weed control will have to be reassessed, suggested Anthony Biddle, technical director of PGRO.

“Weed management rather than control should be the aim from now on. Not only have we already seen a number of useful products fall by the wayside, there are going to be more losses.”

The very small range of herbicides available for use in peas and beans all have their limitations, he added. “The possible demise of pendimethalin puts us in a real quandary. It’s used in various mixtures at the moment.”

The post-emergence timing is the most affected by recent changes, he reported. “There’s just Basagran (bentazone) left for beans, and even that’s under threat. The hormone herbicides can only be used in peas.”

The remaining pre-emergence herbicides are far more dependent on favourable weather conditions for good results, said Dr Biddle. “It’s inevitable that growers are going to have to get used to seeing a certain level of weeds in their crops.”

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