With new products landing, a pipeline of innovations and a multibillion pound merger on the horizon, it’s an exciting time to be the new managing director of Dow AgroSciences. Dominic Kilburn puts the questions to John Humphreys.
Managing director of Dow AgroSciences, John Humphreys.
Tell us about your career to date I was born into an arable farming family in Lancashire, and trained as an arable specialist at NWF in Cheshire. My first taste of corporate business came with Unilever in 1983, before I set my sights on a career in crop protection. I held area manager, national field team manager and key account manager roles at ICI Plant Protection from 1985–2004, before moving to BASF. I joined Fram Farmers in 2008 but soon realised my first love was being involved with innovation – in reality, an R&D manufacturer. By chance I met Scott Boothey who was, at the time, Dow’s UK and Ireland MD and we quickly found that our style and thoughts were very much aligned. This led to me joining Dow in 2011, initially growing our business in East Anglia, then taking on responsibility for the sales team and now as MD. Provide a brief overview of Dow’s new active ingredients? In the past year the company has delivered UK growers a brand new molecule in the shape of Arylex Active (halauxyifen-methyl) which
debuted in Pixxaro in 2016. Its launch was a landmark moment for UK growers as the new molecule allows them to work on a broad spectrum of key problem broadleaved weeds in cold or variable conditions, providing more spray days. Launched in March, Zypar is the second product from the Arylex stable. It also boasts the same robust level of control and tank mix compatibility, but has both autumn and spring application windows. Grassland herbicide Leystar has been introduced in the UK for newsown leys and maize, and Envy’s introduction is targeted at less intensive grassland for weeds such as chickweed and buttercups as well as re-seeds. Both products have florasulam as one of their components which not only broadens the spectrum but gives greater consistency in cooler conditions. We have just delivered new cereal herbicides, and have new fungicides and sap sucking insecticides to come in the next three years. With Leystar and Envy, we have fresh products in the grassland sector where, unbelievably, only 10 per cent of managed grassland receives a herbicide application. What are the key priorities in over-seeing the proposed merger with DuPont? Leading up to, and immediately after, staff will be uppermost in my mind as well as the goal of ensuring customers see a benefit in our service. I want to help Dow and DuPont to become world class in what it offers to UK and Irish growers. I look forward to working with and developing the skills of the
team around me, and being a strong advocate of UK farming. Dow and DuPont have a complementary product range, which makes us a good fit and, critically, the company will provide even more resource in to finding solutions for modern day farming issues. Do you understand why there is concern that a small number of businesses control such a large global market share of agchem and seed sold to farmers around the world? I can understand why some people have voiced concerns over this but I can assure you the word ‘control’ is emotive for me. Day-in, day-out we compete for growers’ business with our competitors. The truth is, the more successful Dow AgroSciences is, our shareholders will allow us to invest in the future – which is good news for growers. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the crop protection industry and how will the company be able to address some of them? The spiralling cost of R&D and bringing products to market means return on investment becomes ever more challenging. Regulation, be it good or bad, has meant many hundreds of active ingredients have been lost. It also means that new products are ever more difficult to bring to market. Recent studies show that 75 per cent of products used on farm are from the latest technology available – proof that with the impact from the pressures of low farm incomes, shortages in labour availability and weather extremes, for example, new products give the flexibility and performance the grower is demanding. Continuing to harness technology will be a cornerstone of Dow’s future work. We want to convey field trials to a wider audience, to connect with growers more instantly to allow speedier decision-making and to create benchmarks of best use practice so that lower performing fields and farms can improve. However, we also have a duty to advocate the role of integrated pest management and demonstrate how our products can play a vital role in feeding the growing world. Any thoughts on how Brexit will affect the crop protection market? No-one can talk about the future without mentioning Brexit. But it’s
too early to predict its impact on the agrochemical market. Ask me again in two years! What may change however is the impact the UK has as a reputable fact- and science-based country which judges scenarios on risk not hazard. Whether Brexit frees up or intensifies the regulation surrounding agricultural technologies remains to be seen. GM has been debated in the news again recently. Do you see a renewed focus on this technology following Brexit? It is surely our responsibility to identify all options to sympathetically and sustainably expand the production of food. However, as and when public opinion changes, and should we have the right products at the right time, we need to investigate suitability of GM for the UK. Do you think the public perception of UK farming is changing? The biggest challenge to our industry is convincing the public that food isn’t produced in a supermarket. Farmers have done an exceptionally good job growing and producing the crops we need as ingredients of the meals we eat. Their passion runs deep, their concern for looking after the environment is unwavering – yet we still struggle to get the success and pride of UK and Irish agriculture across. Part of Dow’s role is to continue our commitment to working with industry partners as well as the many stakeholders to change the perception of farming to a glass halffull rather than a glass half-empty. Which crop protection innovations over the past three decades stand out for you? Moving from a single treatment to a three-spray cereal fungicide programme, and educating growers of its benefit, is one major breakthrough. Glyphosate has had an incalculable benefit in allowing crops to be economically grown on previously weed-infested soils. I would put the introduction of pyrethroids for autumn barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) control in the same bracket. But the introduction of Arylex is also up there. It’s genuinely groundbreaking in the way it performs irrespective of cold and variable weather conditions, controlling a broad spectrum of key problem weeds. ■
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