Syngenta Products Offer Benefits Generics Don’t

At Syngenta, brand names are backed by $1.3 billion in annual research and development and a steadfast dedication to customer service.

Published online: Feb 19, 2018 Fertilizer, Fungicide, Herbicide, Insecticide, New Products Matt Ehlers, Syngenta
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Source: Syngenta Thrive

Anyone who has ever earned his or her own money can appreciate the power of saving a dollar. When it comes time to buying a can of kidney beans, which do you pluck off the shelf—the name brand, which costs a little more, or the generic? Does it really matter if the facial tissue you purchase in the next aisle carries a certain ubiquitous brand name? Probably not. 

But all products are not created equal. This is particularly true when it comes to production agriculture. Syngenta can spend $300 million and 10 years or more developing a proprietary active ingredient. Then, when that ingredient goes off patent, companies often crowd the market with lower-priced alternatives, angling for shelf space and hoping to sever long-time customer loyalties. 

Generics, however, do not always perform up to the level of their original branded counterparts. Among the yield-killing issues that can arise: poor mixtures, equipment breakdowns, pest infestations and crop injury. 

Active ingredients don’t magically create quality products all by themselves. It is the chemical formulations—those precise blends of active and inert ingredients together—that combine to give growers what they need to overcome challenges in the field. This process takes years of laboratory testing and evaluating, followed by more years of Syngenta and university researchers field testing the formulations to make sure the active ingredient consistently performs as it was originally intended. 

Generic manufacturers often launch their inferior, knock-off products without any research to back them up. And while the “what” is important, so is the “how.” To develop a formulation, Syngenta uses proprietary formulation technology and specific manufacturing processes that can positively influence a product’s stability dramatically. So what can a grower lose by choosing the generic alternative? The cost goes far beyond a can of beans. 


Strong Relationships

Charlie and Ed Sanders’ job descriptions would take up the entire back of a business card. For starters, they are brothers and growers of 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. They are also co-owners of Sanders Farm Service LLC in Charlestown, Ind. As prominent ag retailers, they have, for decades, sold a variety of seed, fertilizer and chemicals. 

When a customer approaches them with questions about generics, “It’s usually driven by price,” Charlie says. “As it gets harder and harder to earn a living at farming, there will always be growers who are trying to save a few dollars an acre.” 

There’s nothing wrong with that. But the Sanders brothers believe strongly that investing in generics is not the way to go about it. 

For them, Syngenta products come with the kind of service a grower will never receive with a generic. In the spring of 2017, Ed received a call from a grower who was battling a vicious outbreak of waterhemp, which is relatively new to southern Indiana

Ed visited the grower and took photos of the offending weeds. He forwarded them to his Syngenta representative, Aaron Smith, and the two of them talked it out on the phone as the sun set over the horizon. 

“We came up with a solution right then and there,” says Ed, who advised the grower to rework the ground and apply Dual II Magnum herbicide. “With a generic, you don’t have the ability to reach out for technical expertise.” 

The Sanders brothers implicitly trust their Syngenta rep. “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, if I need something, I know he will be there,” Ed says. “I’m not going to sell out that loyalty for a penny or two.” 


Breakthrough Science

Matthew Cottle is obsessed by formulation science. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a doctorate in polymer chemistry, Cottle is the group leader for herbicide formulation development at Syngenta. 

“Formulation science appeals to me because I get to pair the research and development side with the opportunity to directly impact customers,” Cottle says. “We make all our formulations with the end user in mind.” 

And that means the world to retailers and growers when talking about an active ingredient like mesotrione, which came off patent in recent years. Syngenta introduced mesotrione, an active ingredient in Acuron and Halex GT herbicides, to the market in 2001, when it launched the Callisto family of herbicide technologies. 

Today, a grower can walk into a local ag supply shop and buy a jug of generic mesotrione. But unless that grower has Cottle’s educational background and a state-of-the-art formulation lab at his disposal, creating a generic that equals Acuron or Halex GT is all but impossible. 

A Syngenta-branded mesotrione product contains specifically designed surfactants that enhance its performance. These enhancements include protecting the active ingredient from degradation, stabilizing the formulation as it moves through the supply chain and improving formulation stability in the spray tank. 

“Surfactants are the beating heart of a formulation chemist,” Cottle says. He’s not alone in that feeling. “When you come into Syngenta as a new chemist, you’re building off the achievements of a team with 40 years of experience.” 

As such, Syngenta mesotrione products feature proprietary stabilizers and compatibility aids, which allow them to perform in a variety of conditions and with all types of equipment. Syngenta scientists continuously test samples from bulk terminals in all regions to help ensure the company’s strict quality standards. 

“We have the manpower to put our products through the ringer,” Cottle says. “We can produce the quality that people are expecting. In a post-patent world, quality is what sets us apart. We hang our hat on that.” 


Innovative Seed Treatments

The soybean seed-treating season lasts four to eight weeks each year. Dealers cannot afford any disruption due to mechanical malfunctions or problems with their products. 

“The last thing you want to do is shut down your operation in the middle of the season,” says Ravi Ramachandran, head of the Syngenta Seedcare Institute in Stanton, Minn. “Downtime means lost sales. Growers are not going to wait around.” 

But Ramachandran has seen it time and time again, when dealers use generic products. Often, the product ends up sticky, and seeds then clump together or attach themselves to the side of the treater drum. 

In comparison, “Our products are of high quality and work without operational disruption. Every drop of our products delivers the correct dose of treatment on the seed,” Ramachandran says. 

For instance, CruiserMaxx Vibrance Beans seed treatment is a combination of separately registered products, featuring three fungicides and an insecticide. The RootingPower of Vibrance fungicide protects the entire root system, while unique polymers bind active ingredients to the seed coat, reducing fugitive dust and improving seed flow. 

Having seed treatments that work in the field the way they are supposed to is important not only to growers, but to equipment manufacturers as well, says Chris Bursiek, manager of product safety standards for John Deere. He has visited Syngenta’s Seedcare Institute in Minnesota, where treatments are developed and put through their paces. 

“We receive great insight from companies like Syngenta that participate in the development of ag equipment standards,” Bursiek says. “We need to know that when we put that equipment in the marketplace, it will work well with the plant protection product.” 

Relationships with partners outside Syngenta are integral to the company’s success.

“We have a very strong pipeline of technology. We have the best scientists, chemists and engineers in the industry,” Ramachandran says. “But creating top-tier products means working outside the laboratory. Collaborating with equipment manufacturers helps ensure our products—and customers—are set up for success.”