For the past year and a half, Syngenta has been making headlines by aggressively expanding its footprint in ornamentals.
From 2000 until last year, Syngenta consisted of Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. and Syngenta Professional Products, focusing on turf and ornamentals in Greensboro, N.C., and S&G Flowers, a breeder and distributor in Lisle, Ill. In 2006, Syngenta purchased Fafard, a leading growing media producer. This year’s big acquisition was Fischer, the largest breeder producer in geraniums along with other key staple crops, including poinsettias and New Guinea impatiens.
While S&G has been strong in seed and was building its vegetative lines, German-based Fischer was already one of the largest flower cuttings producers in the world. In September, Syngenta announced Fischer USA in Boulder, Colo., will manage Syngenta’s entire portfolio of flower genetics from seed and cuttings and S&G Flowers will focus on being a full-service broker/distributor.
“We want to open the distribution channels to give our growers the opportunity to buy the industry’s best genetics from their distributor of choice,” says Keith Cable, who is now president of S&G Flowers. “Syngenta’s distribution company will now be able to focus all efforts to become world class in bringing an expanded line of products and services to our customers.”
The varieties will be open to all distribution channels and S&G Flowers will distribute a full-range of offerings, even from other breeders. Fischer will continue to maintain its exclusive license with Goldsmith’s vegetative annuals. The official change over in order handling will be April 1, 2008.
Alex Prohodski, who was president of S&G Flowers, has been appointed business transformation manager of NAFTA Flowers, reporting to the global head of flowers at Syngenta. In this role, Prohodski will be responsible for managing the implementation of a new information systems platform and working with all partners in the Syngenta portfolio for continued innovations in plant health. Syngenta’s crop protection controls are the foundation for this initiative and make it possible.
Fischer USA’s President Gary Falkenstein notes a focused effort on making the supply chain a more effective and productive system. “The new management team of Syngenta is helping us put those same business processes to work at our farms, and we’re already seeing the benefits,” he says. “Syngenta brings new value to the market from our three product lines–growing media, genetics and controls–and offers extensive research and development behind each plant, crop and media; technical support along with customer education opportunities; GreenCast®; and GreenPartners®, the industry’s leading loyalty program.”
S&G’s Business Development Manager Kent Carrell adds, “By drawing on the combined expertise and resources of these companies, we feel we can bring unique knowledge, service and added value to the grower. Such a robust line of genetics provides Syngenta with the capability to more fully implement our plant health strategy. These leading genetics, combined with Syngenta control products and Fafard growing media, can create optimal growing programs for our customers. These products represent a significant portion of a grower’s needs.”
A Global Giant
Based in Basel, Switzerland, Syngenta is a world-leading agribusiness company that is a leader in crop protection and ranks third in the high-value commercial seeds market. Sales in 2006 were approximately $8.1 billion. To provide an appreciation of how large Syngenta is in scope, just in crop protection, ornamentals represents only 5 percent of Syngenta’s business, according to Mark Waltham, global business unit lead for ornamentals, which includes both crop protection and growing media. But that 5 percent is huge for our industry worldwide.
“Ornamentals truly are a global village,” Waltham says. “We have operations in Kenya and Ethiopia and in two of the largest cut flower producing countries, Colombia and Ecuador. In Japan, South Korea and Asia as a whole, there are opportunities in developing markets for cut flowers, bedding and pot plants. China is growing rapidly. In Europe, Holland is number one–the center of everything for both Europe and Africa. One of the reasons I joined the company three years ago is its global reach. My first job was in agronomy, advising growers how to grow flowers and vegetables.”
Syngenta’s global agricultural roots trace back to seed and crop protection pioneers Sandoz, Ciba and Geigy, with heritages originating in the 1700s for Geigy and 1800s for Sandoz and Ciba. Geigy began producing insecticides in 1935 and merged with Ciba in 1970. Sandoz, which owned flower breeder Sluis & Groot (S&G Flowers) and distributor Vaughan’s Seed, merged with Ciba in 1996 to form Novartis.
Seven years ago, Novartis and AstraZeneca merged their agribusinesses to form Syngenta, the first global group focusing exclusively on agribusiness. The name, Syngenta, has two distinct roots. “Syn” in Greek reflects synergy and synthesis. “Genta” stems from the Latin term “gens” for people and community. So Syngenta means bringing people together.
If you ask Waltham what makes the difference in the marketplace, he will be the first to say it is people. At the end of the day, no matter how big a company is, it’s the relationship with each customer that matters.
“For me, it’s simple,” he says. “It’s highly dedicated people, great products and a close relationship with our customers. It does no good unless you have a combination of highly motivated people who really pride themselves on trying to understand what customers need, making the commitment to address challenges and understanding the customer. It’s a way of life for our sales and tech guys. It’s what they’re about and what they do.”
The information Syngenta receives from the field is converted into relevant research and development. Waltham explains that each group within the leadership team handles daily activities, but a strategic, global leadership team establishes direction and longer-term priorities. “There are no disadvantages to being a larger company,” he says. “Day-to-day matters are managed by small, local teams who know their market, their customers and can move quickly.”
While staying close to each market, the ornamentals team at Syngenta also benefits from being part of something larger, especially in terms of research and development (R&D). “We spend millions a year on R&D,” Waltham says. “We’re constantly bringing new innovations that yield benefits in all parts of the business. We in the ornamentals group have great new products, but the roots of discovery are in other parts of the company. We make the most of the expertise we bring.”
From the flower side, Carrell seconds that. “The agricultural reach of Syngenta and its investment in research provide definite advantages to the ornamental business,” he says. “We employ more than 5,000 scientists worldwide working on agricultural solutions related to plant science. Many of the discoveries and breakthrough technologies that occur in other segments of our business are evaluated for their merit in the ornamental segment.” Being active in other countries also benefits U.S. growers. For instance, Syngenta is working on getting a new product registered for Botrytis control that has been used in Holland for many years.
“There are existing products that are on track to receive label extensions offering additional application methods or controlling additional pests,” says Jose Milan, head of marketing for professional products. “Syngenta believes that innovation means finding additional uses in our existing molecules, as well as in bringing new products to market.”
An innovation could also be a new formulation. “Another new and timely offering for the poinsettia production season is the new granular formulation of our Flagship insecticide, Flagship G,” Milan adds. “It provides greater flexibility in application methods and outstanding control.”
Investing In Growing Media
For the past year, Syngenta also has invested in Fafard, growing its presence beyond the Eastern United States to the West. “We are excited to report the Fafard business unit is working to gain distribution to the western part of the country through a new plant in Marshall, Texas,” says Fafard’s President Keelan Pulliam. “The most significant changes are the opening of new peat bogs and the mixed plant in Texas and the addition of the Hi-Rise baler, as well as the acquisition of an additional 3,000 acres of bogs in central Canada along with the 3,000 acres already owned by Fafard.”
The new Hi-Rise bales give growers the option of high-volume, low-waste bulk packaging with a space-saving design that requires just 30 to 45 minutes to unload a truck with a single forklift, he says. Fafard also has developed new mixes, including an orchid mix.
“As Fafard alone, we were leaders in the marketplace with our quality products. As part of Syngenta, we are able to have more resources that give us the opportunity to integrate technologies we did not have access to in the past. Growers are starting to see that investment. We can meet more of their needs, answer more of their questions and solve more of their problems.”
Rising To The Challenge
The greatest challenges ahead lie in helping growers remain profitable, Pulliam says. “Our challenge is to help growers meet the expectations of their customers,” he says. “Growers are facing smaller margins than they have before, so we are working to give them better products that help them achieve their business goals.”
Carrell adds retail market consolidation has lead to more downward pressure on price. “Issues such as pay-by-scan and higher service levels with large retailers have increased risk and cost,” he says. “Growers must operate more efficiently than ever before. Rising costs of production, despite little to no increases in wholesale price of finished crops, continue to plague growers. We believe the whole industry wins when quality products are offered to the consumer. It is our goal to work with growers to provide them with the best quality genetics and growing practices to produce a quality product that retailers will select for their programs.”
Reducing shrink at retail is top of mind, Waltham says. “I can’t pin it down to any one thing, but we’re in a unique position with our portfolio to address it,” he says. “If we can get that right and help growers produce nice products more efficiently, that translates into increased sell-through to the customer. In the end, it will be ornamental growers who are telling us whether we are successful.”