Facing Ag Industry Challenges

At the 2016 annual Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) meeting in September, a pair of crop protection company representatives discussed the many challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century. According to Michael Boden, head of U.S. Crop Protection Sales for Syngenta, there are four major challenges currently facing global agriculture: Food security, breaking through the productivity ceiling, a limited amount of farmland for growers to utilize, and decreasing natural resources.

“At the end of the day, it all boils down to everyone in agriculture having an industry-wide engagement in how we can ensure there is a food supply going forward,” said Boden. “And at Syngenta, we have a company platform called the Good Growth Plan which looks at addressing many of these concerns.”

Of course, addressing challenges can lead to some new opportunities, said Ben Kaehler, U.S. Sales Leader for Dow AgroSciences. For example, consider the current state of the agricultural market itself.

“We just have experienced some of the best years of agriculture, and if you look at the years from 2010 to 2016, the values for both crop protection products and seed have largely increased year-over-year,” said Kaehler. “But in the agricultural market, we know we get into cycles, both up and down. Right now, we are coming off one of the ups and just starting on one of the downs, and 2017 will probably look similar to the down years of 2015 and 2016. But if you look at the overall numbers, the values for 2017 will still be as good as they were back in 2013, which will still be one of the best the industry’s ever seen. Furthermore, growers will still plant lots of crop seeds that will need crop nutrients and crop protection products to succeed.”

Another area where agriculture has come under increased fire in recent years is regulatory. And things could get a lot worse in the near future, predicted Kaehler. “I think we are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of new regulatory challenges,” he said. “Just a few years ago, I doubt so many people in our industry would have been so concerned about such topics as buffer zones and pollinator health as they are today.”

For crop protection product companies, this has presented its own new set of challenges, particularly when it comes to choosing between existing and new products. “Because of all the increased scrutiny, new products are being delayed longer than ever before,” said Kaehler. “Worse still, existing product labels are increasingly being revoked, such as Belt, which has been used for many years. Bottom line: No products are safe and we as an industry will spend a lot of money defending existing products vs. investing in new ones.”

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