New chemical tech

New chemical tech

BASF is bullish on plant health and water management technologies for LCOs.

June 6, 2012
Chuck Bowen
Supplier News

CHICAGO – At a corporate conference focused on sustainability and innovation, BASF said it will roll out products to help plants deal with drought and heat stress in the next few years.

Jan BuberlJan Buberl, director of BASF’s specialty products department, said the company expanded its Intrinsic line of specialty products for LCOs this year. The product group, which includes an EPA-approved plant health label, has been shown to improve disease control, response to heat and mechanical stress and growth efficiency in plants.

BASF’s Pillar G fungicide, which launched last year, is slated to get an Intrinsic label this fall, Buberl said. And in 2014, the company plans to roll out a new fungicide with the active ingredient xemium. The company’s R&D pipeline also includes herbicides that suppress seed heads on zoysiagrass, and products that use absorbent polymer technologies to improve water use efficiency in plants.

Buberl’s comments came during the company’s Agriculture Media Summit, which BASF hosts every two years. It brings together about 100 editors, technical experts and end users for a day and half of research and market updates.

And while the bulk of BASF’s R&D spending and investment is in the agricultural markets, that investment of time, energy and resources does impact the specialty industries. After an active ingredient is launched in the agricultural markets, it takes about two years to reach the specialty chemical business, said Tom Hill, communications manager for BASF’s specialty products division.

Annually, BASF spends $48.4 million – or about 9 percent – of its research and development budget on the specialty turf, ornamental and pest control markets.

We sat down with Buberl to get his take on the future of the lawn care market, and what LCOs can expect from the company in the next few years.

L&L: What are the main challenges you see in the turf market in the next 3-5 years?
Jan Buberl: Hopefully the economy will recover, that’s number one. The key thing is the discussion around sustainability. You see the discussion of water and water restrictions in places like Florida and the panhandle in Texas – it’s huge. If we don’t handle this, sustainability and the public pressure around this is big. I’m on the board of RISE, so I hear a lot of things and discussion especially about new legislation in the Northeast.

If we don’t manage this in a proactive way, we have challenges to really make sure we, down the road, have tools in our hands to manage golf courses and lawn care. If you don’t tackle sustainability proactively and change the perception in the broader population. … People have no clue what we do. It’s something we have to tackle and the industry has to tackle. It’s a very long journey, but we have to start somewhere. We’re convinced this is the journey we have to take and how to get the industry better perceived.

BASF executives Harald Lauke, president, Competence Center for Biological and Effects Systems Research; Markus Heldt, president, crop protection division and Peter Eckes, president, Basf Plant Science Co., updated attendees on BASF's R&D activity and its plans for future growth at a conference in Chicago. L&L: Earlier today we learned about a partnership BASF has with Monsanto to develop new crop systems. Do you look for similar partnerships in the turf markets?
JB: We work in the T&O world with some third parties, especially around equipment solutions. What we say is we want to bring product solutions to the customers. BASF doesn’t have the full expertise in equipment, so we work with third parties on this piece. But mostly we have interaction with BASF units that aren’t the ag units. We work very closely with the polymer division. When we talk about water efficiency – we work with our other division that produces a super-absorber.

Joe Schuh, technical manager, and his team have a very close relationship with universities. We have a network in terms of third-party collaborations. I tell you that I personally think we have to broaden our open innovation approach, because we miss some opportunities, but it’s a process. It’s a process to learn, and if you would have listened to the discussion we had a couple of years ago with Monsanto, they were key competitors – no way that you work with them. And today, it’s a great collaboration. You have to find a way to work with people in a trustful environment.

L&L: What do you wish LCOs knew or were doing differently?
JB: From a lawn care standpoint, we want to find more solutions around herbicide control or water management. When I talk with customers, water management is a huge deal. We’re getting more involved because we see a lot of potential for innovation in terms of water management, a more efficient weed control system. We have a lot of overlapping customers. A lot of customers that work on the pest control side have similar customer needs and dynamics like landscaping guys. We have a lot of expertise. When you talks with customers, you think, ‘I’ve heard that somewhere. We have a solution here, why don’t we bring it there?’ The dynamics are slightly different, but I would say 80 percent they are the same. In some geographies – in Florida, on golf courses – sometimes they’re even the same customer.

L&L: Are you taking care of your own lawn or do you have someone treat it?
JB: I’m doing it by myself. I follow label directions that [BASF technical manager] Joe Schuh gives. [Laughs.] I do large-scale trials, and I tell you last year it didn’t work out. In some areas we may have to fine-tune the formulation.

A GLOBAL FOCUS. With a global population predicted to hit 9 billion by 2050, companies like BASF are working to develop new technologies to make the planet’s limited supply of land produce more and more food.

“We all know the land is not growing. … With continued innovation, we continue to get more out of the land to feed the global population,” said Harald Lauke, president of biological and effect systems research at BASF. “In many cases, chemistry is the enabler.”

That chemistry allows farmers to grow more corn and soybeans on the same acre of land. But Chris Mallett, corporate vice president of research and development, Cargill, said increased productivity isn’t going to solve world hunger.

“One message I’d like to put up in neon if I can is that food security is a highly complicated area,” Mallett said.

Citing data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Mallett said 1 billion people worldwide don’t get enough to eat each day, and 38 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished. To feed everyone, he said, the world needs just 30 million tons of grain

“We did produce enough calories to extinguish hunger,” he said. “Did we do it? No.”

Ag journalist Max Armstrong, right, led a panel discussion on global sustainability as part of the 2012 BASF Agriculture Media Summit in Chicago. Participants included Nevn McDougall, senior vice president of BASF Crop protection, and Fred Luckey, chairman of Field to Market.MEASURABLE SUSTAINABILITY. As consumers, end users and suppliers continue to ask for sustainable products. BASF has developed AgBalance, a system to measure the ecological, society and economic impact of its products.

The system started 15 years ago as a way to measure efficiency and sustainability of BASF’s operations in the automotive coatings business. By examining a couple hundred data points like soil quality, nutrient balance, biodiversity, rates of worker pay, commodity prices and residues in feed and food, BASF can measure the sustainability of certain practices and entire businesses.

In 2011, the tool received independent assurances from three global agencies: The TÜV SÜD, DNV Business Assurance and NSF International.

“The whole purpose of the model is a snapshot of where we are today and what changes within those parameters,” said Nevin McDougall, senior vice president of BASF Crop Protection, North America.

The same model has been applied in more than 400 other industries including, in late 2011, agriculture, where it calculated a 40 percent increase in the sustainability of Iowa corn production during a 10 year period.

McDougall said the tool is currently being tested in the structural pest control markets, and will eventually make its way to the turf and ornamental segment.

“It’s still a biological system we’re working in,” McDougall said, “so all the parameters still apply.”

- In 2011, BASF filed for 1,050 new patents worldwide, more than any other chemical company, according to PatentSight
- Last year, BASF posted global revenue of E73.5 billion
- By 2020, the company plans to bring in E115 billion
- E30 billion of that goal will come from products and services that are less than 10 years old
- 23 percent of BASF’s overall research and development budget is spent on new segments and businesses
- Globally, 10,000 people work in R&D