September 2009's Innovation in crop production for productivity and biodiversity event occurred at a critical time for the crop protection industry. Recent mergers and acquisitions have resulted in a contraction of the industry, such that only six major discovery-based participants remain. However, recent concerns over global food supply, exacerbated by use of significant crop areas to produce biofuels, have provided the industry with fresh impetus. The profitability of the industry has improved in line with the escalation of crop prices.
Innovation is now imperative, not only to provide more effective strategies to combat pests, diseases and weeds, but also to combat the development of resistance to existing methods. In the past, the industry has achieved the latter by continuous innovation of products with novel modes of action. Following industry consolidation, the ability of the remaining companies to meet this objective is a major challenge. So far, organic chemistry has provided the mainstay of crop protection, and this is unlikely to change, at least in the medium term. Superior products, which provide high levels of control, together with a benign environmental profile, will continue to be produced.
For the past dozen years, the emergence of gene-based pest control has been accompanied by unprecedented market growth. Delivery of technology via the seed is an elegant control method, both through conventional breeding and by genetic modification. This field is still in its infancy, with high promise for future developments. Biological control using living organisms remains a niche area, but with very valuable contributions in specific areas. 'Biologicals' used in combination with conventional control strategies offer new ways of avoiding resistance, as well as lowering the level of chemical input.
The symposium was designed to cover all three areas in depth. The future undoubtedly lies in employing the optimal combination of all available technologies, and the presentations and posters addressed these issues. The importance of the development process were also covered. The gaining of a 'license to sell' from international regulatory authorities is obviously the critical factor. Thus, it is vital that the screening process used to assess new products provides indications for all the properties required in a premium product in order to avoid unsuspected problems later in development. In addition to early testing to unearth potential negatives in human and environmental safety, the protection of biodiversity is a key factor, as is safety to non-target organisms. The contribution of such scientific research to sustainable agriculture is a key feature of this important and timely symposium. Organised by Len Copping and David Evans of the BioResources Group, this event was supported by the RSC, and held at Syngenta's International Research Centre at Jealott's Hill, Bracknell, Berkshire on 9 September 2009.
The event also marked the retirement of Dave Lawrence, Head of R&D at Syngenta. Dave, who retired in April 2009, was formerly based at Syngenta's headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, having earlier spent his entire career in crop protection research at Jealott's Hill.