Blog •  2023-02-09

From R&D to retail, crop protection product development starts and ends with the farmer

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By Kelly Bennett, Western Canada Herbicides Category Leader, Corteva Agriscience 

If I asked you what challenges you would be facing as a farmer in five, 10, or 20 years, what would you say? A common answer would probably be “I don’t know.”

Finding the answer to that question is the challenge facing research and development teams across the agriculture industry at this very moment.

Corteva Agriscience researchers are forward-thinking and are working on the crop protection solutions to challenges farmers are not yet experiencing in their fields but will be in five to 10 years. This future focus is required because the crop protection space is a strictly regulated industry. It takes between two and four years to register new formulations or combinations of existing products and anywhere between 10 and 20 years to develop, test and register a brand-new active ingredient.

But regardless of time or regulations, the core element to the success of any new product is starting with farmers. Researching and developing new solutions should be viewed as a partnership with Western Canadian farmers – innovation is only an improvement if we’re making advancements that will make a difference on the farm.

At Corteva Agriscience, we follow two processes for determining what farmers’ future needs will be. Internally we ask ourselves: what are the problems facing farmers today? This allows researchers to identify gaps in existing product lines and then work to develop solutions that will fill those gaps. While that work is going on internally, the best way to find clues about what is going to be needed on the farm in the future is simple – asking farmers themselves.

One example is the increase of American Dragonhead in the early 2010s. As the weed started to make its way into farmer conversations, we began asking, “What is this weed? How can we control it?” We added it into our research program and tested our existing herbicide solutions with the weed to identify if we had anything in our portfolio that provided effective protection against American Dragonhead, so that we could make recommendations to our customers.

This type of feedback and input from farmers is critical in setting research in the right direction to ultimately develop specific solutions for performance in Western Canada.

To find a solution to a new weed pressure in the shortest possible time frame, crop protection developers usually start by looking at their existing portfolio of active ingredients – either in Canada or globally – to identify what combinations might work to fill the crop protection need in the field.

Once a potential solution is identified, the new formulation will undergo rigorous and comprehensive field efficacy studies. More complex formulations may have more field evaluations, allowing product developers to be comfortable with the level of product performance at the lowest effective rate. The purpose is in ensuring the effectiveness of the solution, alongside its efficiency and convenience for farmers when added to their crop protection plans.

Upon completion of field studies and many other test requirements, the findings are submitted to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to be reviewed and approved for use in Canada.

When no existing products or formulations are found to be effective, a dedicated team of researchers are guided by the trends and challenges identified on farm to discover new active ingredients and modes of action.

Because it can take years to bring new solutions to market, crop protection developers must be as accurate as possible in what is submitted to their research teams, so they know what to look for. As a potential new solution moves through the development cycle, researchers will look for opportunities to refine it with different combinations of existing actives, as it can be rare to discover a single new active ingredient that will accomplish everything a farmer needs.

The challenges farmers face are ever-changing and so should the solutions they rely on to do their job day in and day out. It’s imperative that we maintain strong ties with, actively listen to and understand the needs of our Western Canadian farming community to continue advancing our R&D.

Because, at the end of the day, if farmers aren’t successful, no one is in the agriculture industry.