Increasing number of regulations, climate changes and management of water resources, price volatility in agricultural commodity, are all factors that make crop protection industry becoming more and more valuable, based on an always broader range of solutions and answers to the growing multiplicity of issues. Markus Heldt, President of the crop protection division of BASF, answers some questions.
Agriculture Internationale - Is the cacophony of regional regulations - in a market that is nevertheless global - liable to hinder the implementation of BASF innovations? Are some countries more threatened than others by this situation?
Markus Heldt - Generally, we welcome knowledge exchange, best practice sharing and co-operations by authorities worldwide. No matter where, regulations should always be designed to balance proportionality and precaution. Regulatory frameworks need to be clear, reliable and feasible to apply.
In addition, an in-depth review of the effectiveness of existing regulatory processes in supporting innovation has to be installed. In Europe, recent developments in risk management and regulatory policy could likely have a negative impact on the innovation environment.
A.I. - You wish to develop solutions beyond the simple protection of plants, such as products for water management. For what reasons and when will these innovations be arriving?
M.H. - Growers face many challenges in addition to the need to control pests and disease. Generally, environmental stresses such as nutrient deficiency, drought, heat and adverse weather can limit opportunities to get the most from their crops in yield and plant health potential.
BASF asked growers what their most pressing challenges were. One challenge is that water availability is becoming more variable and challenging to agricultural production. For instance, there are increasing losses through drought in major crops, yield and quality losses through high salt content, and contamination of irrigation water. The need for fresh water exceeds availability. So BASF is focusing on products that help plants use water more efficiently, to help farmers reduce irrigation and improve yield. We expect to have water management solution in the market mid-decade.
A.I. - You recommend the intelligent weighting of technological input and agronomic practices. Do you think this approach has been understood both by policymakers and producers?
M.H. - If society wants to overcome important challenges such as food, water and energy security and sustainability, technology is a key driver. There is a growing concern that the necessary balance of precaution and proportion is increasingly being replaced by a simple reliance on the precautionary principle and the avoidance of technological risk.
In addition, following the Good Agricultural Practice is key to combine efficiency and efficacy. We support farmers through several knowledge transfer initiatives as well as through innovative solutions beyond crop protection.
A.I. - In some regions, BASF has introduced financial programs and grain exchange programs. What are the potential benefits, criteria and conditions of access, together with the expected effects?
M.H. - Financial and grain exchange program are solutions to help our customers to mitigate their financial risks in times of decreasing soft commodity prices. Today BASF has programs running successfully in the following countries : Brazil, Argentina, USA, Canada, Ukraine, Russia and Italy. In general term, BASF guarantees a certain crop price to customers.
That means he has more security to plan his purchases for crop protection products. The definition of countries, crops and specific financial models are defined between our marketing, sales and finance teams, taking into consideration market conditions and customer needs. In most cases, program conditions are linked to our customer and portfolio loyalty programs.
Specifically for Latin America, we have also programs developed together with commodity traders. Experience shows that customers are recognizing those BASF offers and, as a result, are increasing their purchase decisions for BASF products in exchange of higher risk protection.
A.I. - On account of climate change and the foreseeable contribution of biotechnology, what criteria are set to underlie the future direction of your research?
M.H. - As an integrated and global chemical company, we want to drive forward innovative and sustainable solutions as an enabler in areas that confront us with serious challenges. Through our R&D Know How range, we help our customers to meet society’s present and future needs.
We do this by leveraging our unique position as an integrated, global chemical company: our operative excellence, our market knowledge and customer relationships intermesh seamlessly with our research and development expertise. We are continuously exploring innovations for a sustainable future.