Opinion: Why the Crop Protection Industry Needs Strategic Vision

The crop protection industry faces a dilemma.

In the uncertain and globally competitive world of crop protection, focus has primarily been placed on incremental product development, rather than on strategic vision and ideation.

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Because of this, the incumbent crop protection industry risks stagnating. Competitive cost measures trump strategic vision.

The State of our Industry

To understand our dilemma, it is necessary to know that while the post-war era of discovery and commercialization was a period of continuous innovation, no major new mode of action has been introduced to the market in the past 30 years.

Since the 1980s, crop protection corporations have sought to grow through global expansion and incremental, “good-enough” product development, relying on revenues from successful chemicals that were decades old.

Even commercial biopesticides were primarily based on natural mechanisms developed over more than 100 million years. Neither product innovation — based on long-term research projects with uncertain outcomes — nor strategic vision were primary concerns. Competitive cost structure was.

The best of times, the worst of times

With the financial crisis of 2008, globalization halted, and crop protection products became commodities. Since then, corporations have been expanding through acquisition, becoming larger and more competitive, but also more cumbersome.

For many corporations, R&D funds are becoming too diluted for them to prioritize true product innovation and strategic vision.

In this climate of competitive cost structure and “growth” by corporate acquisition, the coming-of-age of the biopesticide industry and its inclusion in integrated crop protection strategies is seen by many as a sign of a new period of innovation.

Although start-ups and other smaller, innovative companies have created a powerful and competitive environment for biopesticide R&D, these small companies face considerable challenges as a result of acquisitions, collaborations, and licensing agreements with the incumbent chemical industry.

While these bear witness to the ongoing symbiosis in the crop protection market, the need for ideation, innovation and vision across the industry is greater than ever before.

In the uncertain and globally competitive world of crop protection, organizations not prioritizing strategic vision and change will be supplanted by those that do. I believe that, like the more agile computer industry, the crop protection industry — conventional as well as biological — must continue to shift focus from “product” to “implementation”.

Within the industry, the strategic shift from “product” to “implementation” will rely on Strategic Ideation to identify powerful ideas for growth.

Successfully executing this change will depend on our ability to not only integrate synergistic conventional, biological and technological solutions, but also on our ability to facilitate and integrate intelligent communication with crops.

Innovation interfaces

I believe that the biggest innovations in the crop protection industry will be at the interface between chemical and biological crop protection, precision technology and plant biology.

I envision a future where growers will protect their harvest in close cooperation with the crops themselves, monitoring weather and disease patterns and communicating with crops through complex systems developed over millennia: leaf- and root receptors, volatile stress hormones, root-root and root-mycorrhiza interactions and inducible, systemic defence response cascades.

In less than 10 years, I foresee precision crop-signalling products strategically placed in fields, able to be automatically released and activated by weather- and pest-monitoring systems. Local, induced plant defense responses will be transmitted throughout the field by inter-plant communications, proactively priming crops to combat invasive pests and pathogens. “Blanket” applications of chemical and biological crop protection products will be eliminated, and aerial monitoring as well as precision application solutions will permit site-specific supplemental treatment, when and as required.

Industry Leaders

For current industry leaders in strategic growth and change, priority is being given to developing Strategic R&D Management frameworks for leading innovation growth.

These corporations obtain insight into change initiatives as well as cultural and leadership challenges within their own organization, such as transitioning strategic thinking to entrepreneurial thinking by introducing entrepreneurial mindsets and expert intuition in established R&D frameworks.

Significant opportunities outside traditional, vertically-integrated industry roles exist for industry experts able to provide ideation as well as strategic and technical expertise to both start-ups and existing corporations. The strategic shift from “product” to “implementation” will only be successful if we prioritize a deep technical understanding of pesticide and biopesticide mode of action and formulation, precision scouting and application technology, as well as the essential principles of plant and pest biology.

Thanks for reading. Let’s get to work.