The contrast in agriculture between Canada and the United States was made obvious during a summary of the year in agriculture by Syngenta’s North American leadership.
“In Canada overall, the weather was better than average, after we had a couple of challenging years,” said Trevor Heck, president of Syngenta Canada during a recent Syngenta media summit.
“In the end the crop that was harvested was one of the biggest crops we’ve seen in 15 years in Canadian agriculture.”
Exports of Canadian grains, especially from Western Canada have been strong and prices have been up at harvest.
Why it matters: Farmers depend on crop input companies and understanding the direction of those companies will help farmers better manage their inputs.
In the U.S., however, Vern Hawkins, Syngenta president of North America Crop Protection, said 2020 has been a “challenging year for everyone in the industry. Our channel partners are keen to move onto 2021.”
Beyond COVID there were various challenges in the seed world, said Justin Wolfe, the company’s president of North America seeds.
Those challenges included trade uncertainty, challenges with soybean traits and political uncertainty.
New soybean traits with dicamba resistance have been controversial with court challenges, restrictions and changing regulations.
There has been some clarity brought to the situation due to a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granting of five-year licences to two dicamba herbicides, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology and Engenia. The EPA also extended the registration for another dicamba product, Tavium Plus VaporGrip Technology.
Wolfe says Syngenta has the product diversity to help farmers work through their decisions on dicamba-tolerant soybeans, with dicamba-tolerant as well as E3 soybeans.
Wolfe said he is looking ahead to 2021, as the company continues to add trait options to its soybean lineup and with an improved crop pricing outlook for the year.
Wolfe, Hawkins and Heck emphasized the continued investment coming from Syngenta in the sector.
The company is spending US$31 million on a new research and development centre in Illinois and has made acquisitions, including in biologicals.
Hawkins said growers, such as those producing organic crops, are interested in biologicals as alternatives to conventional production tools.
Heck said the company has invested in hiring new staff in Canada, especially in corn and soybean seed.
The release of new fungicides has proved popular in Canada, he said.
Syngenta was purchased by ChemChina in 2017 and the transaction didn’t result in major changes to North American operations.
The same isn’t true of the other major crop input competitors, says Hawkins.
“The competitors are trying to figure out how to best leverage consolidations,” he said. “That’s creating a differential approach to the market and some tension and unease from channel partners.”
Technology: The long evolution
The Syngenta leaders said that most technology coming to the agriculture market isn’t new. The conditions just haven’t been there for widespread adoption.
Heck was working for the company in Europe 20 years ago when it was founded and said that digital agriculture was being discussed at the time, but the baseline technologies weren’t all available.
“The past 20 years were pretty amazing. The next 10 to 20 years are just going to be phenomenal,” he said.
Wolfe said that parts of digital agriculture are still in early maturity, and pointed to consumer actions through portals like Amazon.
“Those things will happen on the farm and they will happen quickly.”
Relationships with farmers will continue to evolve
Hawkins said the company has no plans to create output-based pricing programs as other companies have started.
Output-based pricing programs allow farmers to share risk with input companies based on yield. If the yield is lower, the input company shares the pain, but if the yield is higher, the company gets a cut.
“We’re going to evaluate what’s going on in the market, but there is nothing going on (in Syngenta) right now.”
The company is, however, working to find ways to help farmers and retail partners share risk, including providing products like climate prediction equipment and software.
A project called AgriClimate in Western Canada is doing just that, said Heck.
“Farmers want to manage their farm. What they want help with is managing risk and making sure their investments in crops are going to end up being more profitable.”