Syngenta: Driving investments in China, working together to meet breeding targets
−− An interview with Ioana Tudor, Head of Global Seedcare in Syngenta
Jul. 19, 2018
During the ISF world seed congress in Brisbane, Seed World reached out to Ioana Tudor, head of global Seedcare.
Shawn Brooke (Seed World): Syngenta is now a Chinese owned company, can you tell a bit about how that affects your day to day operations?
For the day-to-day operations, we don't see a lot of change, we still operate our business from our Switzerland office. Syngenta remains Syngenta. Actually we receive very strong support from our new owner to continue to run the business as we did in the past and has led us to a very successful leadership position. There is change however with respect to China. Of course one of the reasons ChemChina bought Syngenta is because they want Syngenta to play a significant role in increasing agricultural productivity in the Chinese market. So China has 22% of the population and only 7% of the agricultural resources. So what the Chinese government wants to do is to lift up agricultural productivity in China and the hope from ChemChina is that Syngenta can play a very significant role in that. For me personally, Seedcare already had a very strong presence in China, so now we take advantage of this opportunity to drive investments even faster in this very interesting and fast changing market.
SB: Do you get to spend much time in China?
Not much but I just travelled there a couple of weeks ago. Each time I go I am very impressed by how fast things are changing over there. Not only in agriculture. I had the feeling they completely jumped over the use of credit cards, now all payments are done on iPhones and via social media. Regarding agriculture, changes are very fast and people are so keen to drive the adoption of technology and so willing to make changes it's very impressive.
SB: Can you share a personal story where you have seen the impact that seed treatments are having and what you are hearing from the seed companies that you are working with?
My latest field visit was a couple of weeks ago, I was in France and we visited sugar beet field trials. Sugar beet is one of my favorite crops by the way. We were testing our latest fungicide innovation in sugar beet which is VIBRANCETM SB. In fact we are launching it this week in Europe at a major sugar beet conference (IIRB). When you compare VIBRANCE SB, the first fungicide innovation in sugar beet in Europe in the last 20 years, to the current solutions today, there is a big difference. In a crop where stand establishment is extremely important and every plant is counted, I believe this is going to make a big impact.
With respect to seed companies, the more closely we work together, the more it can help from a breeding target perspective. Sometimes to focus more on yield, sometimes to fine-tune the resistance breeding of certain native traits and often seed treatments act as good resistance management tools to preserve the longevity of certain native traits. Working together can help both the seed industry as the seed treatment industry.
People who don't understand seed treatments seem to put a lot of blame and concern on them. If we didn't have seed treatments how would that look to the environment and how would that look to the seed companies.
First of all it would make the grower's life a lot more difficult. Growers have a big responsibility to feed an ever growing planet and in the same time there is a lot of consumer pressure around environmental impact. So they are trying to balance productivity and minimum environmental impact.
Seed treatments are ideal tools for that because they protect the plant in the first thirty days. They have very low usage rates per hectare, an extremely positive impact in terms of yields, so if we wouldn't have seed treatments growers would need to spray more foliar treatments and would have to spray more often. There would be a negative impact on yield, they would have to plant more hectares to get the same output, so the grower's life would be more difficult. From a seed company perspective; the potential of the plant would not be fully expressed, and secondly, seed treatments today represent a significant source of value for a seed company. That source of value would disappear if seed treatments would not be around, so it would mean both a negative impact on finance and on performance.
SB: How do we have the conversation with society at large about seed treatments and the benefits they bring to the environment and society?
It's a difficult conversation, it's such a big misconception. This idea that somehow seed treatments are prophylactic therefor they are bad. We should really turn that conversation on its head, because when you think in human health and medicine, prophylactic is very much supported but in agriculture it is not. We need to find ways to move away from our defensive, academic mode, with lots of data that goes past people's heads and instead find a way to connect with people at a level that is easier to understand and more interesting for the consumers at large. We tried to do that at Syngenta in the last few years with the Good Growth Plan commitments where we tried to say: "Here's what we do as a company and here's the impact we are committed to try to make with respect to productivity, impact on the environment and impact on people." We quantified those commitments, we made all that data public and then we tried to also take the information and put it out there in a much simpler form rather than staying in that scientific jargon. We started to see movement and engagement, especially from some of the NGOs that are maybe more willing to have a reasonable dialogue.
SB: My experience has been that you are usually launching something at ISF. Can you share what is coming down the pipe here at ISF?
Sure, ISF is a great platform, 1300 people from all over the world from different countries, different crops. What better platform to launch a new innovation. This year we are announcing two new innovations. One is on the product side; we are introducing a brand called SALTRO™, it's a novel fungicide mode of action. The active ingredient is ADEPIDYN™, it's an SDHI. It's really going to raise the bar in seed treatment with respect to fusarium type diseases: blackleg in canola, sudden death syndrome for soybean and bakanae for rice. These are three very important diseases and this is perfect timing because canola in Australia has the highest virulent blackleg infestation in the world so we hope it will be very well received by our Australian customers.
The second announcement we are making this week is about the ongoing commitment and investment in our Seedcare Institutes. This is the technical support service that we offer to our customers and this week we are announcing the investment in an Australian Seedcare Institute, it's our fourteenth location and it will open in Q4 this year and will be located in Wagga Wagga, in partnership with the Charles Sturt University. We believe this will be a great further commitment towards Australian agriculture, with not only great products but also great support services coming alongside.
SB: Ioana, just to finish, you seem to be very active as it relates to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, can you talk a little bit about why that is important to you and what you would like to say to seed companies that are trying to go down the path that you are encouraging?
I have quite a lot of personal passion for it, I came to the US more than 20 years ago. I was Romanian, a foreigner, female in an industry where there were not that many women in the room at that time and also coming from quite a different background. I don't have an agricultural background, I grew up in a big city, I'm an economist and I learned all the agricultural aspects in my time with Syngenta and the industry, so I always felt like the odd duck. That's why I have quite a lot of personal passion for this, but I also firmly believe that whenever you make a decision and you involve people coming from different backgrounds, with a different way of thinking, the decision will always be better. This leads to better performance, it leads to increased innovation, so if we can do more of that as an industry I think we can make a much stronger step forward within agriculture. Attracting people from more diverse backgrounds in agriculture will take our industry forward. We are doing a lot of that within Syngenta but it is not only diversity, inclusion is equally important. Otherwise people would not be the best in expressing themselves and be the best that they can be. I think that if we can do very well in both dimensions, it will be very good for the industry. Looking at the crowd here at ISF, I think we have a great panel of diversity of people coming from so many different parts of the world.
SB: Very well said, thank you for sitting down with me here Ioana.
Learn more from AgroPages magazine "2018 Seed Special " about ISF world seed congress in Brisbane and Syngenta's strategy in China