Editor’s note: This paper was prepared based on the report from Jean-Guillaume Delpierre, Head of China Projects and Developments at Certis Belchim, which was presented at the China Pesticide Exporting Workshop (2023 CPEW) held on July 12 and 13, 2023 in Hangzhou. The report focuses on the transformation and development of the European agrochemical market, providing an analysis of the countermeasures and practices of enterprises, which can be used as a reference for industry practitioners.
In his presentation, Delpierre offered a comprehensive analysis of the current European agrochemical market and related countermeasures taken by enterprises, including the impact of the implementation of the Green Deal on the agrochemical market, and the new requirement for industry development imposed on enterprises, as well as the challenges facing the European enterprises, such as the climate environment and registration regulation. Delpierre proposed that companies must increase their innovation to adapt to market changes. At the same time, he highlighted the fast-growing Certis Belchim as an example of how companies should prioritize product layout and formulate market strategies to seize market opportunities.
Presentation of Jean-Guillaume Delpierre, Head of China Projects and Developments at Certis Belchim, at 2023 CPEW
Key drivers, challenges to European crop protection market
- European agrochemical market showed negative growth in 2022, policy adjustment imposed new requirements on the business development of enterprises
In 2022, the global market faced widespread challenges, which are inflation, high energy prices, production cost increases and supply chain disruption. As the market reaction came after a time delay, the global crop protection market could still show stable growth in 2022. Due to favorable climatic conditions in Asia and Latin America, as well as expanded soybean acreage and higher product prices, the global agrochemical market grew by 6.2% year-on-year, having reached US$78 billion in 2022 (Source: Standard & Poor Crop Market Reporting).
In contrast, due to the direct impact from the Russia-Ukraine war, Ukraine’s planting acreage decreased and the country’s annual crop protection market fell by 30%, while the overall European market, including Ukraine and Russia, showed a negative growth of 3.6% year-on-year calculated in euros. Other factors include the impact from the euro-dollar exchange rate fluctuation, as well as drought in parts of Europe.
In 2022, leading agrochemical companies generally recorded good business performance attributable to the rise in sales revenue boosted by price increases, while other companies achieved growth from the expansion of their market share. In the short term, the market share of conventional chemical pesticides in the European market is 92.5%, the growth rate of which has stabilized. In the meantime, shares in the biological product market are currently staying at around 7.5%, creating considerable room for growth. The average annual growth rate of biological product could reach 7% in the medium term.
In parallel with the growth of the market, the Green Deal issued by the European Union (EU) have set targets and timelines for sustainable agricultural development. This ambitious plan aims to make the EU economy sustainable. Under the agreement, farm-to-fork and biodiversity are two key factors which will have a direct impact on the crop protection industry. The specific goal includes achieving a 50% reduction in chemical and harmful pesticide use by 2030, and organic farming having a 25% share by 2023.
As well as European policies and regulations, food retailers in Europe have also formulated their own food quality standards, which have had an impact on farmer’s choices for crop protection products. For example, food retailers do jot allow the use of some active ingredients, and agricultural product residues should be restricted down to only a certain percentage of the legal standard. These standards require pesticide manufacturers to boost their innovation and develop more effective and efficient products but with lower environmental impact, therefore, to adapt to changing market and consumer needs.
These goals will undoubtedly place higher requirements on European pesticide manufacturers, who must adjust their product structure and invest more in the research and development of biopesticides. These new initiatives are likely to affect other regions at a later date, so it is important for crop protection companies to adapt to this trend and continue providing farmers with a range of solutions that meet policy and market requirements.
- Significant decrease in available active ingredients, climate challenges create opportunities
One of the major constraints currently facing the European agrochemical market is the significant reduction in the number of available active ingredients. Due to the high threshold for pesticide registration, the number of active ingredients approved for application in the European market has been significantly reduced from 1,460 in 1990 to 455 in 2020. If a new product is planned for release in the European market, full preparations for testing and registration must be done well in advance to ensure that is passes a series of approval procedures, which restrains the innovations of enterprises.
To achieve the objective of the Green Deal and promote the application of the existing active ingredients to meet the needs of the market, companies are faced with considerable challenges. In the meantime, tensions exist between social needs and the global food production industry, where many agricultural producers appear resistant to these changes while the whole industry is preparing for such changes.
Change also generates market opportunities, which can be utilized by enterprises to fill the gaps made by related challenges. For example, one may try to develop brand-new biologics to provide solutions to fill gaps in crop protection products and meet value chain needs.
The European agrochemical industry faces the challenge of climate change, with prolonged drought in South Europe, damaging floods in Italy and long-term cold weather in Central Europe, which have affected planting activities for some time and caused damage to crops already planted. Nevertheless, industry players can find business opportunities, such as increased pest control demand due to high temperatures and the occurrence of diseases in humid regions. To seize growth opportunities, industry players must provide innovative solutions that help growers adapt to climate change, which requires commitment in terns of investment and R&D resources.
Secondary and tertiary players are also beginning to step into the biologics-related business sectors through mergers and acquisitions
Due to the mentioned external constraints, the competition between European agrochemical enterprises has intensified. The players in the primary market aim to firmly catch customers, which requires companies to commit large amount of resources and invest in digital solutions.
Companies in the secondary and tertiary markets are focused on the consolidation of distribution networks and are prepared to continue to gain market share through price advantages. Some of these companies have also begun to expand their biological product lines through acquisitions, as well as move into relevant technical industry sectors, while biostimulants and plant nutrient products have been used to compete with conventional crop protection products in several application fields, as farmers will demand hybrid solutions. Currently, the proper regulation of these non-conventional products is not yet possible, which could offer an advantage in terms of investment and pricing.
The biological industry is developing rapidly, with a medium-term growth rate of around 15% to 20%, while conventional crop protection products still remain mainstream. Other emerging market trends worthy of note include opportunities for high-value and biological seed treatments due to the price rise in seeds. The global demand for vegetable protein is likely to lead to an increased planting of legume crops. On the other side, regenerative agriculture has started to attract attention.
Rooted in the European market, Certis Belchim adopts biological strategy
Certis Belchim is a subsidiary of Mitsui Chemicals Agro. The company’s strategic approach for the European market is to form alliances with Japanese agrochemical companies to provide them with a global distribution platform located overseas. The five largest shareholders of the company are Mitsui & Co. (67%), ISK (15%), Nisso (10%), Mitsui Chemicals (6%) and KUMIAI Chemical (2%).
Relying on the advanced R&D strength of Japanese companies and its registration and marketing advantages, Certis Belchim has been disseminating patented products with intellectual property rights to the global market while maintaining close cooperation with Chinese companies, to include a large number of generic products in its product range.
Currently, Certis Belchim is a strong player in the European market, where its sales volume has risen to seventh place, with an annual business volume of €700 million. In addition to its extensive presence in European countries, Certis Belchim has expanded its business to South America and Asia, having gradually realized its strategic expansion from Europe to the rest of the world. Mitsui Chemicals, one of its shareholders, has a strong global network and is providing Certis Belchim with favorable access to global markets.
Certis Belchim’s goal is to become a sustainable producer by providing integrated innovative solutions. The company spends more than €30 million on research and development per year, having established its own research and development institutions in Belgium and France.
At present, 84% of the company’s revenue comes from conventional chemical products and 16% from biological products, which is much higher than the industry average of 8%. Considering future market changes, Certis Belchim has prioritized the development of biopesticides. Among the 25 new products currently under development, 50% are biological products, of which 45% are expected to be launched in the market over the next five years. Furthermore, the company is acquiring a number of biological companies, therefore, rapidly gaining a bigger market share.
Going forward, Certis Belchim is prepared to make a change from the role of distributor to a service provider, taking advantage of its price advantages and product advantages to better serve local farmers in its already well-established European market.
The data and content in the above articles are edited from the expert’s speech of 2023 CPEW conference.
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