Q&A with Charles Rowlands, co-author of the new Smithers Viscient report Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Crop Protection to 2025

Q&A with Charles Rowlands, market strategy consultant and co-author of the new Smithers Viscient report Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Crop Protection to 2025

Charles has 20 years’ experience as a market strategy consultant in ag chem, crop protection, healthcare, high technology and performance chemicals industries. As a co-author on this new Smithers Viscient report as well as a speaker at this year's AgChem Summit, Charles gave us some insights into what will be the biggest change we will see in crop protection over the next ten years. 

Smithers Viscient-  How long have you been involved in the crop protection and ag chem industries?

About 20 years from working with fine chemical manufacturers supplying intermediates to the ag chem companies to evaluating market entry strategies

Smithers Viscient- What has been the biggest change you have seen in that time?

 The biggest change has been in tightening of regulatory requirements especially in the EU to agrochemicals driven as much by political and consumer attitudes as real science. Herbicide tolerant GM crops generally remain under moratoriums in the EU and in recent years we have seen many very useful agrochemicals withdrawn or having their licenses highly restricted e.g. asulam and neonicotinocids would be good examples.

Smithers Viscient- We see you are authoring a new study, can you tell us about that?

The new study - Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Crop Protection to 2025 - explores what new technologies are emerging in crop protection for the future and their potential impact on farming practices and the status quo in the ag chem and seed technology industries.  What we see is that some of these new technologies could be very disruptive and change the structure and dynamics of the crop protection industry with radical implications for the existing players. It is interesting that Google, Tesla and Apple are the ones that seem to leading the foray into electric driverless cars rather than traditional automotive players. These are new entrants to the automotive industry and could be very disruptive – we think this sort of scenario will also happen in crop protection.

Smithers Viscient- What was the most interesting finding from your research?

 This will have to be the rate of change with which things are expected to happen over the next 10 years – looking back things haven’t changed much in the last 25 years – the tractor and trailer combination is one technology that fits all farmer needs and has done for many years.

Over the next 10 years the rate of adoption of new technologies is expected to be much faster – we have already seen farmers embrace UAVs! As technologies emerge and mature they will converge to provide more intuitive, easy-to-use and cost-effectiveness solutions.

Many disruptive innovations are based on, or consist of elements of existing techniques and approaches; but convergence with new and emerging technologies will enable many existing solutions to be repackaged or repurposed to provide a different and more powerful, disruptive impact – and this will drive increased adoption.

Smithers Viscient- Can you provide some examples of disruptive technologies that didn’t quite make the cut?

 Genetically engineered moths – that only produce male offspring – aim to cause a population crash. The technology to do this is now available – new genetic editing tools are described in the report – but the method requires producing large numbers of altered moths which would be a very costly exercise – nevertheless as costs come down this technique could become more viable.

Microwave weed control – this idea has been around for a long time and there are some prototypes in development. Concerns to date have been efficacy, cost and operator safety. Microwave weed destruction could well reach the market in the future, but at present work on laser based systems is far more advanced.

Smithers Viscient- What do you think will be the biggest change we will see in crop protection over the next ten years?

 We will see the emergence of ‘smart’ farming – enabled by the convergence of technologies such as: advanced agricultural engineering, IT, Big Data analytics, Mobile APPs, Machine-2-Machine communication, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence.

All the new technologies – e.g. decision-support tools, UAVs, robots, sensor networks, vertical farms, etc. – have one thing in common – data. They will either generate data or require data for operation – link this real-time information on farming processes with historical data, such as weather events, yield data, climate, product information and machine settings - then truly ‘smart’ systems start to emerge.

Farming of the future will be a very different environment – farms will be designed for data generation and data capture and fully connected farm machines will function as integrated systems to perform planting, cultivation, harvesting, nutrient and chemical application based on the data generated – such disruptive change will bring agriculture into the digital age.  

Smithers Viscient- What recommendations do you have for crop protection companies looking to adapt to these changes?

The traditional agrochemical companies need to do some serious scenario planning for the future to ascertain how they are positioned if and when some of these new technologies become widely adopted.  They will need to redefine the business they are in from thinking how to meet their customer’s needs and still satisfy regulatory demands on safety and environmental protection.  This may or may not depend on providing a new agrochemical or GM seed but other radical innovations which we outline in the report. The risk for agrochemical companies is that can be outflanked by new entrants to the industry with new technologies meeting customer needs in weed and pest control.

Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Crop Protection to 2025 is available now.  The study identifies the top 25 technologies that will bring about disruptive changes in crop protection.  The crop protection market has traditionally been dominated by seed and agrochemical firms – but as disruptive technologies emerge they bring a different configuration of value propositions, to create new business opportunities for both existing and non-traditional market players. To order your copy, please contact Nicole Kwiecien on 330-762-7441 ext. 1134, nkwiecien@smithers.com  or Cherrie Pickard on  44(0) 1372 802186, cpickard@smithers.com.