DowDuPont boss: Merger will speed up innovation to face farming challenges ‘quickly’

Pierre Flye Sainte Marie: “Crop protection is an affair that all farmers face on the field and must resolve.” [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

A merger between Dow Chemical and DuPont (DowDuPont) aims to accelerate innovation in agriculture to help all farm sizes, as well as rapidly facing up to future challenges, DowDuPont’s Pierre Flye Sainte Marie told in an interview.

“If innovation is not at the centre of operations, a situational risk may emerge when more issues arise and the agility to solve them quickly is not present,” said Pierre Flye Sainte Marie, the head of DowDuPont’s agriculture division in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

The merger was finalised at the end of August 2017 and about 80-90% of the new organisation setup has been completed since then.

“By combining our Dow and DuPont product lines, we are able to create more comprehensive solutions to help growers meet rising demand sustainably, responsibly and safely.”

The new company has set itself a number of objectives, including a drive to enrich the lives of those who produce, i.e. farmers, and those who consume, as well as ensuring progress for generations to come.

“And we want this progress to be achieved in an innovation-driven and sustainable way and by fully integrating the consumer perspective in all that we do,” Flye Sainte Marie insisted.

Green NGOs have warned about agro-chemical company mergers, saying that they will deliver 70% of the sector into the hands of three giant merged companies.

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In addition to DowDuPont, there is also Bayer’s $66 billion buyout of Monsanto and ChemChina’s $43 billion acquisition of Syngenta, which is due to be followed by a planned SinoChem merger in 2018.

But Flye Sainte Marie insisted that the main challenge is innovation, as pests and diseases are not a matter related to business size.

“Crop protection is an affair that all farmers face on the field and must resolve.”

New plant breeding techniques

DowDuPont’s boss also talked about New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs), a term which describes a number of scientific methods that genetically engineer plants to enhance traits like drought tolerance and pest resistance.

The debate revolves around whether these techniques should be classed as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and fall under the strict GMO approval process.

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Flye Sainte Marie asked whether we “want to produce seeds which are more resistant to drought, consume less water, with more protein and less lignin?”

“The NPBTs are just a way to accelerate the breeding. It’s an enormous opportunity to bring innovation in the seeds sector in a faster and better way,” he said, adding that plant breeding innovation including CRISPR-Cas, will improve plants and help farmers produce more and healthier food with fewer resources.

According to DowDuPont, the true value of this important plant breeding innovation will be achieved through active engagement with customers, academia, governments, NGOs and public research institutes to develop new solutions to the toughest agricultural challenges.

“The important thing is that the innovation dialogue was launched in Europe, among academics, scientists, politicians. This is already a good step.”

Africa and digitisation

Flye Sainte Marie also stressed that Africa is an emerging area in the agriculture sector, which needs to be regulated as it simultaneously faces a rising population that needs to be nourished.

“A need for quality is also vital as the rising middle class will demand in the long-term tastier food with higher quality. This is the part of Africa which is booming,” he said.

“Affordable technology will be put forth in the African region. It is of utmost importance to tailor research and techniques accordingly,” he added.

As far as digitisation is concerned, he commented that precision farming in Europe is flourishing as a “natural evolution” and will help build sustainable businesses.

He also referred to the acquisition of San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a leading provider of software and analytics tools.

“This acquisition will enable the business to connect growers, analytics and public and private data to advance our vision for a digitally connected, more sustainable agriculture industry,” he said.

Precision farming position in the new CAP still unclear

New technologies will keep on receiving financial support in the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020 “possibly” under the current funding regime. However, it’s not clear yet whether precision farming will be linked to the direct payments pillar or to the environmental performance in general.

Discussion on new breeding techniques heats up ahead of court opinion

Campaigners opposing new plant breeding techniques have organised protests in Brussels on Wednesday (17 January) calling on the European Commission to “prevent GMOs entering the EU market through the back door”.

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