Limburgerhof, Germany - After last December's $1 billion acquisition of biological seed treatment leader Becker Underwood, BASF has launched a new business unit to take a broader approach to crop care.
That was one of the key messages coming out of today's global press conference held here in Limburgerhof, not far from BASF's global headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Jürgen Huff, senior vice president and head of the Functional Crop Care division, says the unit is "uniquely set up to harness the progress achieved through out interdisciplinary chemistry and biology research."
By 2020 BASF expects more than $675 million in sales from the Functional Crop Care division. BASF is installing a global research and development network with new biostacked launches in 2014. The company expects to roll out several more new products beginning the middle of this decade.
DEFINING A FOCUS: Jürgen Huff, senior vice president and head of the Functional Crop Care division, BASF, explains the corporate strategy.
Weeds, diseases and pests hold yields back by as much as 40%, Huff says. Factors such as cold, heat, nutrient deficiency can hold yields down another 43%. If those factors can be reduced, yields have upside potential to nearly double, "provided the right tools are in place to offset those problems," says Huff.
The new unit will look at technologies that enable plants to reach full yield potential through a three pillar approach: soil management, seed solutions and crop care. "It's a new path for ag solutions," he adds. "The purchase of Becker Underwood was the last piece of the puzzle needed to create this more holistic approach to crop care."
Soil management – Looking at water scarcity and conditions around the world, it's clear that more fresh water is needed than is available, notes Huff. BASF is working on a technology that optimizes distribution of water in the soil so plants can make better use of water that becomes available.
"We want to launch this product in this decade and hope to see up to 50% water savings and irrigation costs," he explains. "We want to see increased yields under less than optimal water conditions."
BASF is also working on a nitrogen efficiency technology. Up to 50% of applied nitrogen fertilizer does not reach the plant and is lost between application and plant uptake. "That's not sustainable, and it's an input cost for farmers," Huff says, "so it's a very rewarding and important research area for us."
New technology, code named LIMUS, will be used to enhance efficiency of urea based fertilizers. "It's not just a new formulation of existing slow-release technologies," explains Huff. "We are looking to slow down the decomposition of fertilizer in the soil." The plan is to provide it to fertilizer manufacturers and launch by mid-decade.
"Growers should see at least 3 to 5% yield increases - we think that's realistic, based on having more nitrogen available later in the growth cycle," says Huff.
Seed solutions – BASF now focuses on five components for seed protection: inoculants, chemical, biological, polymers and colorants. The goal is to improve plant nutrition and vigor and better disease control, says Huff. The company's conventional seed treatment portfolio is already well established; what is added now with the Becker Underwood portfolio is something they call "Biostacked" technology resulting in increased plant vigor, drought tolerance and higher nutrient uptake. The first commercial products include the Vault biological seed treatment available in the United States. "This seed solutions portfolio combines the best of chemistry and biology," he says.
Crop care – The crop care area will provide products to manage stress factors such as heat, cold and nutrient deficiency, all in order to boost plant health. That includes biofungicides and bioinsecticides for disease and insect management and early crop enhancement. It's a growing area of science that complements chemistry-based crop protection, says Huff.
"Beneficial nematodes are applied as spray or soil drench and will be used to fight insect pests," he says. "It's an interesting approach -- nematodes are microscopically small worms that in essence feed on insects. They can provide quick performance in integrated pest control programs."
"We're very excited to work with these new tools," concludes Huff. "Ultimately this is about providing new tools to farmers wherever they do business."