David Hollinrake, President of Syngenta Seeds, understands the current economic climate growers are going through. Growing up on his family’s farm in northwest Illinois, he witnessed firsthand his parents struggle with years of drought, depleting yields, and sub $2 corn.
“Bringing that type of mindset into our business and helping our team understand the economic challenges farmers face is a part of my job, but it’s also how do we help farmers to make the most economical decision or the most profitable decision,” Hollinrake said.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Hollinrake at this year’s Commodity Classic where he shared how the Syngenta team is helping growers weather through the present economic landscape and their plans for the future — including doubling down on their seed business.
“The doubling down is really about putting our money where our mouth is and having a long view so that we are helping the farmer match up the best hybrids or varieties on their farm,” Hollinrake said.
Syngenta plans to add agronomists and breeders and enter into new technology collaborations, while strengthening their relationship with current and prospective customers.
“Our ambition is to write our story, but also to tell our story in a compelling way and show farmers we have an offering that is as competitive or more competitive than anyone else,” Hollinrake said. “The fact is there aren’t a ton of genetic choices out there and we want to be a leading genetic choice and we want to double our business over the course of the next five years.”
With this aggressive goal in mind, Hollinrake said the company is also keeping an eye on four major global trends in agriculture:
- Demand: Hollinrake said while it is easy to get mired in the fact that commodity prices are a little bit low and farm economics are tough, the long-term demand picture is real. Now it’s about how do you meet that demand.
- Convergence of technologies and emerging technologies: Up-and-coming technologies coupled with digitalization could really bring some dramatic changes to on-farm practices, Hollinrake said. He foresees growers in the near future switching from precision ag to decision ag and making real-time decisions.
- Change in farming structure: With the generational transformation of the farm and the challenges associated, companies like Syngenta are looking at ways they can assist their customers make the transition more smoothly.
- Sociopolitical environment globally: The industry needs to take a serious look at how the sector is shaping the regulatory landscape and increasing the cost dramatically as well as the time span it takes to get new products to market.
“Most people in this business have to take this very seriously because it is the consumers ultimately that are going to drive what technologies come to the market because they are the ones that are going to have the influence on the regulatory landscape,” Hollinrake said.
While the FDA, EPA, and USDA are some of the most science-based regulatory bodies, and companies such as Syngenta have proven the technical and safety profile of many technologies, the industry still faces a task of gaining public acceptance.
“We have to reach out and understand why there is opposition,” Hollinrake said. “We have to then bring them in to our business and show them we care about their concerns and meet them head on.”
But Hollinrake said it’s also about driving new innovations such as microbial activity or gene editing -applications that might be perceived differently than gene modification and might provide a platform to better meet some of the needs consumers might have.
But most importantly, Hollinrake said it’s also about meeting the needs of growers during both good times and bad.
“It’s truly about pairing up the best product on the acre and helping them through that economic landscape so they can maximize that return,” Hollinrake said.