Syngenta aims to provide farmers with new tools to combat climate change and changing consumer expectations.
Syngenta recently announced it aims to accelerate its innovation in order to “address the increasing challenges faced by farmers around the world and the changing views of society.”
Clear call for innovation
“Farmers today need to manage climate change, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, as well as changing consumer expectations and views on agricultural technology,” said Alexandra Brand, Chief Sustainability Officer of Syngenta. “There is a clear call for innovation and more action to address these challenges in ways where everybody wins – from growers to consumers and the environment.”
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“Farmers today need to manage climate change, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, as well as changing consumer expectations and views on agricultural technology,” says Alexandra Brand, Chief Sustainability Officer of Syngenta. - Photos: Syngenta
Syngenta’s new approach aims to further improve the way crops are grown and protected, and find solutions that address interconnected environmental, societal and economic challenges.
Work will focus on 3 areas:
- Society and nature guided innovation. Society’s views and environmental needs will increasingly become central drivers for innovation alongside meeting farmers’ needs. New products will be developed in consideration of externally verified sustainability principles.
- Strive for the lowest residues in crops and the environment. Syngenta will work with partners to further reduce residues in crops without impacting farmer productivity, and continue to improve soil health and prevent soil erosion.
- Invest where it matters to farmers and nature. Syngenta will collaborate – with farmers, academia and environmental groups – on researching and developing sustainable solutions. And it will report transparently on the progress and outcomes of these investments.
But what does that mean for farmers worldwide? We asked Alexandra Brand what farmers can expect from Syngenta in the nearby future.
“First off, it’s important to know that sustainability is now fully embedded at the top level of our company. For instance, recently we announced that Louise Fresco, President of Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands, has joined our Board of Directors. Our recently announced collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) should be seen in the same light.”
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The multi-year collaboration with TNC focuses on business practices aimed at improving soil health, resource efficiency and habitat protection in Argentina, Brazil, China, Kenya and the United States.
If we don’t find solutions for adapting and mitigating climate change and soil erosion, we may lose the battle
According to Alexandra Brand, a whole new agricultural system is needed in order to make sure food production keeps being secured and increasingly sustainable. “With our current agricultural technologies we can feed the growing population. However, if we don’t find solutions for adapting and mitigating climate change and soil erosion, we may lose the battle.”
Ms Brand says The Nature Conservancy has helped Syngenta identify new approaches that could meet the challenges posed by climate change. Next to that, Syngenta has completed more than 150 listening sessions worldwide, engaging a broad cross section of views from – amongst others – farmers all around the world. The result was a much clearer understanding of what society and farmers expect and what sustainable agriculture means to different groups, says Ms Brand.
“Climate change is real. Farmers are being faced with more extreme weather conditions, from torrential rains to long periods of drought. While farmers on one hand are applying new techniques like low-till, no-till and crop rotation, they also need better seeds. So, we‘re investing heavily in the innovation of seeds that are tuned to draught tolerance and stand strong in heavy rain.”
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Syngenta invests heavily in the innovation of seeds that are tuned to draught tolerance and stand strong in heavy rain.
Syngenta’s new lines of seeds are characterised by the fact the crops develop much better root systems. “The roots develop faster and go deeper, which makes the crop less vulnerable to extreme climate situations,” says Ms Brand.
Another – and just as important – factor is improving soil quality, stresses Ms Brand. “If we can improve the amount of organic matter in the soil, soil fertility can be restored. A side-effect is that the soil then can absorb more carbon and help cool down the climate.”
If a grower invests in soil quality, he gets a quick return on investment, says Ms Brand. “Ways to improve organic matter are crop rotation, low-till and no-till, and of course you need the seeds that are optimised for that kind of growing.”
When it comes to soil quality, Brazil is a key country for Syngenta. “Drought and soil erosion are big problems in Brazil. With a cultivated area the size of Brazil’s (65 million ha) any change there has a big, worldwide impact.”
The same goes for China. Ms Brand: “In many Chinese areas the soil is in a terrible condition. In some areas growers having been growing potatoes forever, which has exhausted the soil. Syngenta is working together with Chinese organisations to improve the soil quality in China.”
When it comes to crop protection, Syngenta strives for ways to decrease residues and optimise the way growers apply crop protection products. “In Europe there should be zero concern about the safety of food. But still, consumers and retailers demand more transparency. That’s why we‘re developing the eMAT tool that can help growers meet the standards and transparency demands when it comes to crop protection. In grapes for instance, with our tool a grower can plan his or her crop protection strategy and predict if it will meet the requirements by the off-take market.”
eMAT is a constantly updated database of chemical degradation curves and residue requirements from across the globe accessible through an e-portal.
Using the tool, the Syngenta advisor is able to define a spraying protocol for the farmer and to put data into eMAT.
This tool processes and crosses the profiles of the residues of the pesticides in the protocol with the legislation on the Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for wine in the various countries of the world and in the GDO.
This way, the farmer is able to view a market access map and can be sure his wine has all the requirements. As an adaptable programme, if a farmer spots a pest issue, he or she is able to check how to counter the issue by remaining within required and expected residue limits.
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Using eMAT the Syngenta advisor is able to define a spraying protocol for the farmer and to put data into the tool.
In a pilot stage is Hyperweeding: a tool that can be plugged onto a normal sprayer. It identifies weeds in between rows (so you do need a certain amount of space in between crops) and applies the right amount of agent only onto the weeds and not the crop. “That saves the grower money, since less agent is needed, there is no residue on the crops and it’s a way to fight resistance to crop protection products,” says Ms Brand.
The philosophy behind these user-friendly tools is that growers should be stimulated to adopt new technologies. “Typically, it takes a grower 3 to 4 years to change his or her way of growing. In some cases, bridge-financing is needed to help growers make that case.”
Learning journey for Syngenta
For Syngenta, the road to the new strategy has been “a learning journey”, as Alexandra Brand calls it. “After talking to all those NGO‘s, farmers and agricultural experts and scientists all around the world, we gained many new insights and ideas. For us it’s much more than just developing and selling a product; we need to help growers worldwide change and improve their way of growing in a sustainable way, improve soil quality, decrease residues and combat climate change and erosion. The agricultural system needs to change, and it’s our job to provide farmers with the right tools.”
Artesian hybrid maize
One example of seeds that are “tuned to climate change” is the Artesian label, that comprises of SY Helium en SY Gibra corn hybrids. SY Helium can be sown earlier than other seeds and is a lot less vulnerable to drought, according to Syngenta. It also provides a higher yield.
SY Gibra also performs well under difficult conditions, and offers faster grain drying so the ideal moisture level for harvesting is reached sooner and artificial drying costs are a lot lower.
New corn hybrids provide better yield and perform well under harsh conditions.