Syngenta To Speed Up Corn Trait Development With $30 Million Facility

11:59AM Aug 27, 2019
Syngenta hosted a contingency of farmers, scientists and industry officials last week for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that capped the unveiling of its new Trait Conversion Accelerator facility near Nampa, Idaho.
( Rhonda Brooks )

Syngenta officials say they have a simple message for farmers: “We’re here for you.”

The company is backing that message with its new Trait Conversion Accelerator, a $30 million expansion at its Nampa, Idaho, research and development and seed production facility. As the name implies, Syngenta expects to use the highly-automated, controlled environment corn breeding facility to speed up the time frame currently needed to introduce new corn traits for farmers.

“We're about pushing the boundaries of yield, investing in traits and making sure that we're protecting that genetic potential for farmers,” notes David Hollinrake, regional director for Syngenta in North America.

Just two years ago the company initiated a five-year, $400 million incremental investment in its North American seed business. The Trait Conversion Accelerator is a further demonstration of how the company says it is putting farmers first.

“I think it's fair to say that the seed business had been under invested in,” Hollinrake says.

But that has quickly changed for Syngenta. Now, he adds, “We've got 30% more breeding capacity than we had, we've got 50% more trialing ability, we've expanded our collaborations with other companies so that we can create greater genetic diversity and provide more options to the marketplace.”

Currently, Syngenta has the third-largest, global germplasm pool, which is augmented by seven breeding collaborations. Hollinrake says farmers will see more corn traits, as a result of its Agrisure technology, coming to the marketplace in the company’s NK and Golden Harvest corn seed brands. Independent seed companies will also be able to license Syngenta technologies through its GreenLeaf Genetics.

“What Syngenta is doing here shows me a lot of forethought of trying to address these agronomic issues farmers have,” says Kevin Ross, who farms near Minden, Iowa, and is first vice president for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

“We’ve got Goss’ wilt, rootworm, Northern corn leaf blight, huge weather challenges like this year, that we need help with and hopefully some of the new trait research and development will provide products that help us address those,” Ross adds. “There’s a tremendous amount of effort, science and investment going into these seed products that we need on the farm.”

Trevor Hohls, global head of seed product development for Syngenta, says the Trait Conversion Accelerator was built at the company’s Nampa facility because it offers an “excellent combination of climatic factors (solar radiation and humidity) as well as access to a highly-skilled workforce.”

Hollinrake estimates that to bring a new biotech seed trait to the marketplace currently requires between 10 and 12 years of research and an investment that exceeds $150 million. A large portion of the expense goes into addressing the various regulatory hurdles companies must deal with, both in the U.S. and globally.

Overall, Hollinrake says Syngenta invests more than $1.3 billion annually in research and development, with much of that going to grow the company’s Agrisure traits portfolio.

Looking to the future, Hollinrake expects to see more improvements in corn plant characteristics made possible through genetic editing.

“Researchers tell me the areas where they can have the greatest impact with gene editing will be in abiotic stress,” he says. “It may not be right away, but fairly soon, you’ll see improvements in drought and cold tolerance, as well as disease tolerance improvements and then, obviously, yield, chasing the boundaries of the genetic potential of the corn plant.”