Syngenta has unveiled ambitious plans to tackle the world’s food, environmental and land availability problems. Alistair Driver reports from the Brussels launch.
An inspired technologically-driven solution for some of the world’s biggest problems? Or a skillful piece of public relations?
Reaction to Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan touched both extremes when senior executives unveiled the initiative at a high profile launch event in Brussels.
The Good Growth Plan lays out six commitments (see below) to ‘address critical challenges for the planet and its people’ (see panel, below), each with measurable targets the company insists the initiative will be judged by.
At the heart of the project is a pledge to boost global crop production by 20 per cent in seven years, without using more inputs, land or water. At the same time, the company is promising to boost biodiversity and improve the lives of farmers, particularly those struggling in developing countries.
But common strands of crop genetics, development of new chemicals and closer working relationships with farmers and agronomists apply throughout.
With a turnover of $14 billion (£8.7bn) and 27,000 employees operating across 90 countries, Syngenta has made a bold statement that science-driven farming
delivered in partnership with farmers on the ground is the sustainable solution to the world’s food security and environmental problems.
But can it deliver? The plan was generally welcomed as a positive and ambitious step at the Brussels event.
However, the company’s executives were urged to show this was about more than a public relations boost. When executives asked for advice and feedback from the audience via hand-held keypad devices, one word – transparency – was repeated again and again on the big screen.
Speaking in Brussels, Jon Parr, Syngenta European regional director, said: “This not some thin veneer. It is not just about image. This is about developing science of crops for the benefit of the farmer. We can make a real difference if we get this right.
“It is an evolution of what we have been doing for a long time. Above all else we are doing this in a very transparent way and there are clear targets to be measured – we have put numbers on it,” he said.
“But we realise we certainly can not do it on our own. We will need to work very closely with farmers, agronomists and others. It is ambitious but we think the targets can be achieved.”
The company’s senior agronomist Geoff Coates gave a presentation about the company’s Operation Pollinator as an example of how it was working with farmers to balance agricultural production with environmental management, through, for example, field margins.
But environmentalists remained cautious. Birdlife Europe’s Ariel Brunner welcomed the commitment to enhancing biodiversity but said he remained ‘deeply sceptical’ given the firm’s track record on the environment. He would also ‘reserve judgement’ on the environmental pledges.
How the company intends to boost UK yields
THE 20 per cent yield growth goal is an average global target. Syngenta executives said UK farmers can expect something more modest, in the region of 10-15 per cent, achieved in a variety of ways:
- Hybrid barley: The growth target can be achieved ‘almost immediately’ with the firm’s ‘Hybrido’ hybrid barley, European regional director John Parr said. It was the first company to provide hybrid barley on a commercial scale. The second generation is in production and will deliver ‘further significant yield gains’, he said
- Hybrid wheat: Wheat is much harder to hybridise but The company is working on a hybrid wheat, which it expects to be available by about 2020
- New chemistry: It intends to bring new products onto the market, particularly cereal fungicides and herbicides. Its next generation of SDHI fungicides could be available within the next three years
- Controlling black-grass: It is addressing this growing problem through rotational treatment and ‘varietal treatment’. The company said its hybrid barely was ‘extremely competitive in black-grass control scenarios’
- Partnership: It is about an overall growing approach, Mr Parr said. “Partnership with farmers, agronomists, irrigation experts, machinery providers and others is the key”
- But not GM: GM remains a key element of its global strategy but barely features in its EU plans. “It is an extraordinary position but we are not going to put our money where the product is not wanted,” said the company’s head of northern Europe, James Barkhouse
(Source – http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/arable/syngenta-we-can-achieve-ambitious-yield-growth-targets/58951.article)