A concentrated effort to find answers to global challenges is creating dialogues and momentum in seed industry. Many of the experts in this year’s Giant Views of the Industry had interesting stories to tell about the opportunities for the future. Enjoy some of the highlights of their news and insights.
Seed Efforts in Africa
“[Rijk Zwaan] has started a professional breeding company in Tanzania, Africa, where now more than 80 people are working, all Africans, and of course they are managed and guided by our specialists. We were the first company to do this and we met with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and he was really energetic about this approach, because it all starts with seed, high-quality seed, and good varieties. He said, ‘Can you help me convince other companies to come and do the same?’ I am personally convinced, but also our company is very much convinced, that the best way to help Africa [move] forward, to help the vegetable production [move] forward, to produce food of high quality with good nutrients for the people there, is to set up professional breeding companies in various areas of Africa.”—Anton van Doornmalen of Rijk Zwaan
Europe’s Revamped Seed Legislation
“The modernization of this legislation is not about GMOs, it is about seed. The rules we adopt in Europe will be valid for all seed that can be marketed. As you know, for the time being we only have very limited acreage of GM crops in only a few member states of the European Union, and that is a political issue—it has nothing to do with the rules or the regulations as far as the seed marketing is concerned. It really is a question of public perception leading to a certain pressure from activists, but also from the general public, from the food operators, from retailers, and from farmers. Farmers of course can only grow and sell what they know has a market, and that GM market is not yet existent in Europe. Whether or not the modernization of the seed and the plant health legislation is actually changing much of that, I am not sure. I think there are other elements that might play a greater role. Europe has largely restricted the use of three key insecticides—neonicotinoids that are used widely for seed treatment across a large variety of crops. This technology has been very important in making certain plant production is possible in some parts of Europe. Now without that technology, what is left? Many feel that on one hand limited crop protection, and then on the other hand no GM technology, means European farmers and growers are losing tools in their toolbox, and with that losing competitiveness.”—Garlich von Essen of the European Seed Association
What About the Bees?
“As you are aware, the European Commission has suspended the use of neonicotinoids for the next two years. The bottom line is that it’s a bad day for agriculture but also equally a bad day for the bees. It’s a bad day for agriculture because one of the best technologies for insect control is being taken away from farmers, and also one of the most environmentally friendly and safe technologies. It’s also a bad day for the bees because the suspension is not addressing the real cause of bee decline. That’s what we at Syngenta are focusing on. We launched a program called Operation Pollinator 10 years ago, long before the whole discussion about the bees had been picked up in the public and had gotten some international attention. Operation Pollinator is addressing some of the lost habitat and nutrition that we are now trying to get back into the farm landscape for bees. We have also announced, together with another industry player, a five-point action plan to find solutions and come up with some more sustainable measures to improve bee health. It is those types of measures that will help the bees, and not the suspension of the neonics.”—Karsten Neuffer of Syngenta Seedcare
“[As an independent seed company] we really set ourselves apart, because we spend 100 percent of our time on what some of the larger companies probably consider a niche market. We don’t really limit options—we provide a number of different trait platforms and genetic platforms to our customers, and I think they appreciate that freedom of choice and that’s what we truly try and offer them. We really feel like we’re there and we’re in business to serve that grower, because we’re really trying to preserve the values and traditions and the independence that the family farmer has in our market footprint.”—Lou Buice of Golden Acres Genetics
“[AgReliant Genetics] is a 50/50 joint venture with Group Limagrain, which is the fourth-largest seed company in the world, and KWS, which is the fifth-largest. Basically the two companies came together to achieve a common cause, which is to have a bigger part of the U.S. market. They both wanted to have a bigger market share. And to take that a little further, that’s been the common cause that’s helped us be successful, because in the rest of the world the two companies compete, so it’s kind of an odd situation in a way. But because of the common cause in the United States and the success of AgReliant, the partnership has gone very well and they’ve been very good about capital investment with us and supporting our growth.” —Craig Newman of AgReliant Genetics
Listening to the Farmer
“We have a lot of contact with the farmers. Our people are listening to the farmers. They are understanding, they are sharing their passion. This enables our people to really apply their expertise. We have the head of the scientist and the heart of the farmer and our people are therefore able to meet both the demands and the needs of the farmers. We are able to develop customized solutions for farmers.”—Matthias Haug of Bayer CropScience
The Great GM Veggie Debate
“In vegetables we are of course a relatively small industry in comparison to field crops, but we have an enormous biodiversity, worldwide, available. If you combine that with the tremendous amount of excess information we get through new technologies, and if we can use the new breeding techniques, again in combination with the biodiversity, we are convinced that we are capable to supply the market with the varieties that they are asking for—that we can solve the problems we meet, the challenges in our new vegetable varieties, without using GM technology. Well, that’s at the moment the situation, and still it is interesting, of course, to find out and realize why there are hardly any GM variety crops in the market. One thing to point out is that if you compare vegetables with field crops and you talk about adventitious presence—when a threshold is 0.5 percent, in corn and in soybean when this product is processed it stays 0.5 percent. However in vegetables, if you were to have 0.5 [percent] in tomatoes for instance, that means one seed out of 200 would then be a GM seed. The point is if you take that one seed, in hi-tech horticulture we are growing 25-30 kilograms of tomatoes out of that one seed. And those tomatoes are all 100 percent GM products. I’m not saying that this is bad or good, I’m just saying that this is something completely different from the field crops. Therefore, before the vegetable industry commercializes GM vegetables, they will need to be clear about this with retailers.”— Anton van Doornmalen of Rijk Zwaan
“In addition to seed treatment technology, I am impressed by the technologies that seed companies are continuously bringing to market. They also contribute to global food security regardless of whether they fall into the area of genetics or traits. Therefore, I don’t see the seed treatment technologies as in any way substituting or competing with those technologies. It is more on the contrary, they are very complementary to what seed companies offer. Specifically, I think there are two areas where seed treatment technology can provide the biggest and most complementary benefit to seed companies. The first one is where our seed treatment technology can help with the seed protection, the early crop establishment, or the early season pest control. Secondly, there are also some vital opportunities seed treatments offer in terms of integrated resistance management. The combination of chemical solutions with traits creates multiple modes of action that help growers avoid resistance build-up.”— Karsten Neuffer of Syngenta Seedcare