How innovations in agriculture can help fight climate change. Interview with Dariusz Sip, Managing Director of Syngenta Polska
In the coming years, the European Union will place increasing emphasis on environmental protection to combat climate change. The main goal of the European Green Deal is for Europe to be climate-neutral by 2050. Is the agricultural sector able to meet ambitious goals lying ahead?
Indeed, the European Green Deal is quite a challenge for the agricultural industry. To cope with it, we need more investment to accelerate the widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture practices; and farmers, policymakers and agricultural companies need to work together.
Today, farmers carry a heavy burden of costs – seeds, equipment, overheads, for example – and take much of the risk of growing food crops despite uncertainty about weather or market prices. Changing farm practices brings greater costs at the start. Despite that, larger farms and progressive growers are forging ahead.
The transition can’t be left to farmers alone, and governments need to support them by rethinking existing farming policies to make regenerative agriculture economically attractive. Subsidies can be restructured to incentivize farmers to phase out soil-degrading practices in favor of approaches that build healthy, fertile soil while sequestering carbon.
Regulations should also keep up with and support innovations. Let’s take an example of new genomic techniques (NGT). With NGT, it is possible to grow a plant that could have been created by conventional breeding or evolution. However, it can be done faster and more precisely, reducing breeding time from 12-15 years to 5-6 years. It’s very important in the context of climate change and the current food crisis. This is because new genomic techniques help to breed plants that are more resistant to diseases and require less protection. Thanks to NGT, we can also grow plant varieties allowing to produce foods with a longer shelf life, which can reduce food waste, as well as those which are allergen-free and have greater nutritional value. Another benefit is increased yield – farmers can grow more food on less land, and in soils with less nutrients and with less fertilizers. To make it all possible, we need the right regulations.
We will have to deal with the impact of the Green Deal in agriculture from 2023, but it is already worth preparing farms for the challenges coming their way. What new technologies does Syngenta offer to support farmers?
As a Research & Development company, we are constantly looking for innovations that will help farmers achieve high yields while taking care of our planet. We’re investing heavily in digital agriculture, such as farm management systems, soil scanning tools or biodiversity sensors. We are also developing biological products that will at least partially compensate the shrinking portfolio of available crop protection products based on synthetic chemicals. At the same time, we continue searching for new active substances which fight pathogens, but are also safe for humans, plants and the environment. We are also developing new crop varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases and can survive current weather extremes.
You mentioned the burden of production costs resting largely on farmers. To what extent might rising production costs of crop protection products and seeds affect global food security?
Global food security is affected by many different factors. Certainly, crop protection products and seeds are one of them, but there are more important agents, such as rising costs of fertilizers, gas and energy, as well as reduced availability of all these components and solutions. That’s why the war started by Russia in Ukraine has opened a discussion about the need to revise the European Green Deal. No one argues that we need to stop climate change and that agriculture has an important role to play. However, sustainable approach must be applied to all sectors of economy, or even to our daily habits. The European Union has a huge role to play, carrying out the transformation wisely, shaping legislation based on in-depth analyses. And traditionally, a lot can be done by the private sector, by offering the right products and solutions.
What role does Syngenta have to play then? How do you embed sustainability in your operations?
Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do, so we do it in many ways. First of all, when developing new products, we look for solutions that are safe for plants, people and the environment. We are investing more and more in so-called biological products, which can be divided into two groups. The first group is plant protection products based on naturally occurring organisms or on their extracts, fighting, among other things, pests and diseases. The second group is biostimulants, which are aimed at improving plant health or yield. When it comes to biologicals, we are also hoping for further changes in the regulations, which will help to accelerate the development and widespread use of these biopesticides.
We are also investing in digital farming. With modern farm management systems, such as mobile apps, soil mapping tools or biodiversity sensors, farmers can produce food much more precisely, saving inputs and natural resources. For example, they can apply crop protection products only where a particular pest is present or apply fertilizers where nutrients are lacking.
We are also working on educating farmers. This education ranges from safe use of our products to regenerative farming practices, i.e., farming that improves soil, delivers high productivity and high-quality food and helps fight climate change and restore lost biodiversity.
Healthy soil is a carbon sink that can help to slow the progression of climate change. That’s why regenerative agriculture you just mentioned will certainly grow in importance. What exactly does it mean and what kind of practices does it include?
Regenerative agriculture includes 5 basic agricultural practices. The first practice is minimizing soil disturbance, in other words, using reduced-till or no-till techniques to reduce carbon emissions. The next principle is plants in the ground all-year round, i.e., using cover crops or double cropping which prevents soil erosion and increases carbon inputs. The third practice of regenerative agriculture is diversifying crops in space and time, which supports resilience, productivity, and diversity. The fourth is optimizing application of biological and chemical inputs or so-called precision agriculture. As mentioned before, this helps to save not only money, but the environment. And the last practice is integrating livestock whenever possible. Animals help to transform plant material into rich organic matter through manure production. And grazing cover crops or crop residue at the end of the season helps to prepare the land for the next round of seeding, without tilling. As you can see, many of these practices are not new, but have been at least partially forgotten.
Thank you very much for your time. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that agriculture has the right conditions to thrive!
Dariusz Sip – Managing Director at Syngenta Polska Sp. z o. o. A graduate of agronomy with a major in plant protection at Poznań University of Life Sciences. Dariusz Sip has worked in the agricultural industry since the beginning of his career. He joined Syngenta 15 years ago. From 2020 to 2022, he held the position of Seeds Head Central Europe, and since July 2022 he is the President of the Board and CP Head, responsible for the development of Crop Protection business in Poland, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Last Updated on January 9, 2023 by Valeriia Honcharuk