Swiss giants beget Titan…
By Charles Abel
NOVARTIS Crop Protection becomes a reality in the UK this weekend, following final approval of the merger between Swiss pharmaceutical giants Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.
The union between Ciba Agriculture and Sandoz Agro creates the worlds largest crop protection business, with estimated sales of £2712m worldwide. "Thats 70% ahead of our nearest rival and with 9-10% investment in R&D it gives us the industrys biggest research base by far, 50% ahead of our nearest rival," says Don Taylor, head of Novartis Crop Protection UK.
Next closest competitors are Zeneca, Monsanto and AgrEvo, with estimated sales of £1613m, £1607m and £1540m, respectively. In the UK Novartis sales are expected to be £65-70m, comparable with equal top player AgrEvo. Between them the two manufacturers will have almost 30% of the total UK market.
Mr Taylor claims the Ciba/Sandoz merger will bring significant benefits for UK farmers. He anticipates a wider range of new products and innovation to keep farmers competitive.
As the name implies, new skills will be the core of the business. Novartis will invest over £300m a year in R&D, focusing on novel, more active and more specific chemistry, with a better environmental profile and strong links to genetically modified organisms, says Mr Taylor.
"We are on track to introduce two new products a year up to the year 2000. I doubt if any other company can say they are doing that."
Growers will see little difference in products this year, existing packaging being retained for products already formulated. Existing distributor agreements will be honoured, adds marketing director David Allen.
Even next year may be too early for new formulated mixes of former Sandoz and Ciba products, since PSD approval will be needed.
One logical mix will be "cypro-squared" – stem base fungicide cyprodinil with broad-spectrum triazole cyproconazole, explains marketing manager Andy Watt. "It will provide a broad application window and compete very well against other new fungicides."
However, new advice for using former Ciba and Sandoz products in tank mixes or sequences will be an immediate benefit, forecasts Mr Watt.
Economies of scale should help contain production costs. But Mr Taylor feels better products, rather than cheaper ones, will result.
Novartis Crop Protection UK will be based at Whittlesford, Cambs, with Sandozs Ipswich base closing. UK staff cuts amount to 12-15%, ahead of the global 10% target, Mr Taylor admits. The Whittlesford formulation plant has also been sold to a management buyout.
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A new total herbicide is a key product Novartis expects to launch early next century.
In conjunction with Novartis Seeds it is working to develop crop varieties resistant to the herbicide, to compete with existing lines already produced by AgrEvo and Monsanto.
"We have our own extremely fast acting total weed-killer and we are developing tolerance genes for it in sugar beet," says Novartis marketing manager Andy Watt. "Cereals are a possibility too."