MORRISVILLE — How do ag tech companies make decisions about what products to pursue?

Panelists at the February Ag Tech Professional Forum panel discussion at the North Carolina Biotech Center agreed on several key elements affecting their decisions.

Moderator Scott Johnson, vice president of Ag Sector Development at the Biotech Center, noted that companies today operate in a complex environment that includes regulatory hurdles, climate change, social media, and other factors.

Panelists were: Charles Baxter, head Trait Development; Seeds Product Development at Syngenta; Gilles Galliou, head of Region Americas at Bayer Environmental Science; Adrian Percy, chief technology officer, UPL and venture partner at Finistere Ventures; and Marianela Rodriguez-Carres, innovation scout lead, BASF.

They said three major factors guide the ag tech project decision-making process:

  • A need to consider eventual public perception and acceptance of new products
  • A need for collaboration, via strategic partnerships, multidisciplinary teams and other means within and without companies
  • The sustainability of a new product

Public acceptance and perception important

“The perception between our world and the public is going to change,” Bayer’s Galliou said. “In the future, the public is going to have a big say in what we do with agriculture.” Environmental science is an interesting business, he added.

“It takes some of our science to the doorstep of the public. Protection against bedbugs and mosquitos, and help playing a round of golf are technologies the public can relate to. Science for a better life. We’re trying to do that.”

Gilles Galliou

Percy said, “How our industry presents itself is increasingly important. Any product can be shot down by frivolous forces. As an industry, we have to present ourselves as solutions providers to some of the problems society faces.”

Galliou agreed. “There isn’t a single technology answer to addressing the public. It’s all about education. Talking about science was useful for many years, but it is scary for many people worried about people in white lab coats.” Considering public perception is a fact of modern production today, he said. “I’m convinced we won’t be able to develop products in the future without public endorsement.”

Charles Baxter

Galliou suggested that “we need to talk about the benefits of our industry in a wider way that the public understands. We need to go back to the tangible, practical aspects of what a product does.”

Baxter said, “Transparency is very important. Be more transparent about what’s in a product and let consumers make a choice.”

Collaboration necessary

“Innovative solutions to ag tech problems are not coming from one person,” Rodriguez-Carres said. “Collaborative joint development is the future.”

“Collaboration is the number-one thing,” said Percy. “Companies large and small, academics, farmers. There is a place for these partnerships to provide a win-win that solves some of these challenges.”

Adrian Percy

Baxter suggested a need for collaboration with consumer brands. “Companies and growers are not directly connected to the consumer. If we can help consumer brands understand our technology, there is a great opportunity there.”

He added, “We need to work in a multi-disciplinary fashion. On my team, we have one person from each discipline in the same room and hope they can come up with some magic.”

Rodriguez-Carres said, “The number-one thing is to be a team player.”

Marianela Rodriguez-Carres

Sustainability required

“We consider sustainability early-on in the pipeline,” said Rodriguez-Carres, “before we spend all the effort to develop a chemical or biological product.” Machine learning, she said, helps eliminate toxic elements in some products. Precision agriculture can play a role in sustainability, she added. “You don’t have to spray a whole field.”

“Precision agriculture is the biggest game changer on how we develop products,” Percy said. “Smart-decision tools can reduce the amount of chemicals put in the environment. Precision tools can help make biologicals more effective.”

In the future, Baxter said, “We’ll make more precise decisions. One size does not fit all.”

Following the event, attendees enjoyed networking and a sponsored buffet.

(C) North Carolina Biotechnology Center