Like virtually all companies affiliated with the almond business, Syngenta used to focus on selling its products to growers. Now the company is changing its viewpoint, standing alongside the grower, who obviously is not so much concerned about the products as he is about the crop.
“We’re trying to view the market through the eyes of the grower, who looks at the crop and the farm in a holistic way,” says Mike DiPaola, who heads up Syngenta’s permanent crop portfolio in North America. “We have to be strategically organized in a fashion that aligns itself with how growers view their crops.”
Looking at the crop the way a grower looks at it means getting in tune with all the issues almond growers wrestle with, such as onerous regulations. A good example of how Syngenta is changing would be adjusting to air quality regulations, specifically volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. DiPaola says the company reformulated the popular product Agri-Mek so it would have 88% less VOC emission potential, specifically engineering it because growers needed that technology.
“Syngenta saw this coming and decided we wanted to have this tool in almond growers’ hands before the new regulations were in place,” he says. “We’re not just selling products; we’re constantly innovating with the growers of today and tomorrow in mind.”
Syngenta actually started on the journey to become more crop-focused in almonds a few years ago with Vangard and Quadris Top, two top fungicides for almonds, says DiPaola. They began to look at the situation from a resistance standpoint, and from there began to look at the crop itself, rather than the old way of making the product fit the crop.
“Many companies, when they focus on products, just shove a product into a crop,” he says. “We’re not taking a row crop mentality to almond growers. We’re not just turning out widgets and saying, ‘OK, how can we fit this into almonds?’ We begin with the crop and grower in mind.”
Of course, Syngenta has an advantage in taking such an approach because it has a lot of firepower. The company annually spends $1.25 billion on research and development, and has 5,000 R&D professionals worldwide. In total, Syngenta has 27,000 employees in more than 90 countries. Sales totaled $14.2 billion in 2012. “We have a strong and robust infrastructure and we’re looking at investing in agribusiness,” says DiPaola.
In adopting the crop-focused approach, Syngenta started with almonds because the crop is doing so well overall. California’s industry also has the advantage in that it’s responsible for 80% of global production. All systems are go, says DiPaola. “We see the almond crop as vibrant, growing, and stable,” he says. “We don’t see a bubble. It’s growing, but quite stable.”
Another reason to focus on almonds is that one of Syngenta’s missions is feeding the world.
“And almonds have a big place in that because they are very nutritious,” he says. “We know MRLs and other factors directly impact growers’ access to export markets and ability to feed the world. Addressing those hurdles is just another way our crop focus helps Syngenta attend to the specific needs of the almond grower.”