Syngenta marketing chief tackles food issues
Hardeep Grewal is an expert in agro marketing. He was country manager of industry leader Pioneer Hybrid Corn in the Philippines 25 years ago and is now the Asia Pacific Corn Marketing Head for Syngenta, the result of the merger of the agro divisions of Novartis and Zeneca.
Here he talks about the agriculture landscape in the region and the challenges faced by farmers and firms alike.
Question: Can you share the latest developments in the way business is conducted in your industry?
Answer: What has really changed is the awareness and understanding of one of the biggest dilemmas facing the world today: How to feed a growing population while safeguarding the only planet we have.
Farmers today are focused on increasing productivity while effectively managing limited available resources, all while managing farming risk. They also face new opportunities and challenges.
The opportunities include better market access, better availability of agronomic and market information, as well as the ability to use new products and agricultural inputs. However, the challenges include increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, a growing shortage of rural labor, and having to adapt from farming as a way of life, to farming as a business.
At Syngenta, our modern agricultural solutions—combined with education, extension and training, supporting infrastructure, access to markets, information and financial resources—enable growers to increase productivity and improve farm profitability and at the same time have a beneficial impact on water and land resources as well as biodiversity.
Such sustainable production systems help farmers earn better incomes, live better lives, and be efficient stewards of the land.
Q: Since the integration of the seed and chemical divisions of Syngenta in 2011, what innovations or synergies in the value chain have been launched?
A: Through our integration, we have put the grower at the center of everything we do. Our strategy calls for us to think like a grower and understand that he thinks about his land and his crop in a holistic, integrated way.
We offer growers information on our complete portfolio of products as well as on how to improve their agricultural or agronomic practice.
Growers do not just want to know how a particular herbicide controls weeds or how an insecticide controls a pest—they also want to know how to combine the use of agri-inputs with better farming practices to increase yield sustainably, and improve their return on their investment—now and in the future.
A practical example of how we approach this is “Start Right” for small corn growers in Asia Pacific.
We realized that growers were investing in hybrid seeds with a yield potential of 8-10 metric tons per hectare. However, most growers were only getting 6 MT per hectare. This yield still provides a good return on investment, but is short of the hybrid’s potential and below the productivity of farmers, for example, in Europe or the United States.
We developed Start Right to help the small growers raise their productivity. The corn solution is composed of four key points.
First is Plan Right. Here we mean—set a target, list the inputs and activities and develop a sound farm plan to better use resources. The second is choose the right seed for their farm. Third is to manage the weeds to feed the crop and not the weeds, particularly in the early stages of the corn growth. Lastly, protect the plant to boost yield by using the appropriate fungicide or insecticide based on the pressure they face.
We undertook the proof of concept in our research stations where we saw a 10-30 percent yield increase. We piloted it with our lead growers across Asean. It was their positive experience which led us to launch Start Right this year.
We are now working on expanding the Start Right solution to our millions of corn growers. We will work with our channel partners to promote the solution, in addition to conducting field demonstrations at our Syngenta Learning Centers, so that farmers can experience firsthand the Start Right solution in their locality.
Q: What has been a more effective approach in generating growth—selling seed and chemicals separately or integrated in one salesforce?
A: The breadth of our portfolio in crop protection, seeds and seed care makes us uniquely placed to not only provide the grower with integrated offers today but also transformative technologies in the future.
We’re also innovating beyond the single chemical or biological product paradigm. We are innovating by crop and aiming to do so at scale. Our integrated offers and continuous innovation are helping to accelerate technology adoption in emerging markets, where we’ve achieved annual double-digit growth since the launch of our integrated strategy in 2011. Sales have also continued to grow in developed countries, where we enable growers to deal with problems such as weed and insect resistance as well as an increasingly demanding value chain.
Q: How do you make Syngenta stand out when industry players are all catching up on yields?
A: At the core of the long-term success of our strategy is innovation, particularly in research and development.
Our solutions help the grower meet the increasingly complex challenges of today and tomorrow.
But yield alone is no longer enough. The products of the future will need to produce extra yield, but they will also need to have a positive impact on the land and the people who live on the land.
We have the ability to differentiate by offering to target segments an integrated offer or products and services. For example, we have Start Right in corn, GROMORE™ in rice and MaxVeg for vegetables.
Having high yielding hybrids that are adapted to the target market is also key to ensuring Syngenta’s portfolio is competitive and attractive to the grower.
In addition to our technologies and offers, we also have a motivated field force along with strong channel partners to bring these new technologies into the hands of the growers.
Q: In Asia, farming is not considered a desirable career because it is tough work, unglamorous and not as profitable. How do you nurture more farmers to ensure sustainability of your future?
A: Farming is challenging everywhere. However, for smallholder farmers in Asia Pacific and beyond, it is particularly hard as the grower has to balance productivity from their small area of land, while working off-farm to maximize the family income.
We are seeing an increase in professional farmers who are leasing land from their neighbors to gain economies of scale and investing in new equipment for land preparation, planting and crop application.
Farmers are also part of cooperatives and associations to share equipment such as combine harvesters for corn in China.
Syngenta is committed to putting the best tools and technologies into farmers’ hands and provide them with the knowledge and experience to improve growing practices, reduce their risk and improve their income.
(The author is chair of marketing training company Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Visit www.josiahgo.com for complete interview.)
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