Syngenta is changing leadership roles to further support the firm’s growth in North America and around the globe.

David Hollinrake, currently Regional Director North America Seeds, will be appointed to a new position as Head of Global Seeds Strategy and Portfolio. In his new role, Hollinrake will lead long-term strategy development and planning for the global Seeds business to continue to deliver increased choice and innovative products for growers, with primary focus on the important U.S. seeds market.

Hollinrake joined Syngenta in 2017 and brings nearly 30 years of experience in agriculture with numerous senior leadership roles in business development, strategic and product planning, and sales and marketing at Bayer Monsanto, Solae and Adayana Incorporated.

“Since joining Syngenta, David has led our $400M investment in the US Seeds business, including a new $30M corn Trait Accelerator facility in Nampa, Idaho, a 15% increase in R&D in corn and soybean, and increased trialing to meet the needs of farmers locally. He has significantly increased the number of people providing deep agronomic advice to farmers on the ground, and built our digital agronomy capabilities,” said Jeff Rowe, President Syngenta Seeds. “David’s laser focus on meeting customer needs and deep agriculture experience makes him the perfect fit to lead the development of our long-term global strategy.”

Justin Wolfe, currently regional director for Europe, Africa and Middle East (EAME) Seeds, will be appointed regional director North America seeds. Justin joined Syngenta in 2018 and has over 26 years of agricultural industry experience. Prior to joining Syngenta in 2018, Justin was with Monsanto for over 20 years, most recently as vice president Europe and Middle East commercial operations.

Wolfe will focus on "expanding the choice and quality of products we offer in North America, leveraging our broad germplasm pool — now one of the broadest in the industry — and offering growers digital platforms like E-Luminate to increase return on investment and building our team of agronomists standing side-by-side with US farmers,” Rowe added.

The Syngenta EAME Seeds region will now be led by Gaël Hili, currently Syngenta crop protection head for Eastern Europe. All appointments will be effective June 15, and all three individuals will report to Rowe.

In an exclusive interview with Agri-Pulse, Hollinrake said he’s “very appreciative” of the change but it will be a bit “bittersweet” because he joined Syngenta Seeds three years ago as the firm was in the midst of a turnaround.

“To experience the growth in talent, to see the belief in people and to now be a confident challenger to the other companies that are great in this space is something that’s hard to walk away from. But I also understand the opportunity globally and I don’t take that lightly."

He says the “comeback” for the seeds business started with hiring the best talent at a time when many of his competitors were consolidating and changing staff. He hired over 100 people to his team, including new leadership for sales, marketing, breeding and more.

Hollinrake says he was fortunate to have mentors who believed in his personal development and provided pathways for reaching goals. He’s installed individual development plans for everybody in the organization — basically an “action plan in place that allows you to leverage your strengths, overcome your development areas, in pursuit of your aspiration.”

“For the first two years, there wasn’t a week when I wasn’t recruiting,” he adds. “That's been a big key to our success. Translating the strategy into an employee engagement opportunity where everyone in the company sees their role and how they can contribute to customer success has been a joy.”

But the change at Syngenta Seeds was also supported by a $400 million incremental investment — largely around technology that enabled the firm to bring products to the market faster.

He says “we're starting to see the fruits of these changes. We will grow market share in soybeans for the third year in a row and grow market share and corn for the second year in a row. That's pretty important for a company that had seen declining market shares for almost each of the last 10 years prior to prior to this turnaround.”

Hollinrake says there are three anchors to his new role, which was developed over the last nine months during conversations with Rowe and Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald.

“One is the strategic planning element, which includes building our game plan to win globally: What investments are necessary, what collaborations are necessary, what technologies will allow us to best compete and out compete the competition,” Hollinrake says. Other components of his new role include licensing, along with mergers and acquisitions, and portfolio management.

“It's defining our offering, defining our deployment strategy, ensuring that we're sharing the portfolio across the regions of the world where they can benefit. And really, playing our game at another level."

Looking forward, Hollinrake says he’s excited about new corn and soybean traits that can be developed through a combination of traditional breeding techniques and new tools like gene editing.

“Yield is always going to trump anything else, but to ensure yield stability, we also have to have protection from the pests. Above- and below-ground insect protection is really vital."

Syngenta also sells Enogen, which allows a beef cattle or dairy operator to have a 5% feed efficiency improvement, says Hollinrake. “It also allows the animal to be a little bit more healthy and they emit less. So, when you think about how it can lead to a better environmental footprint, that's significant.”

Hollinrake says the use of technology to achieve more sustainability on farms has a great deal of potential. Just two years ago, the Enogen brand was only sold near ethanol plants to improve processing efficiency.

For soybeans, he says protein is still a big deal, but farmers don't want to give up yield.

“It’s the combination. We’ve got to have the same high yielding profile that customers are accustomed to, but the end consumer wants improved protein content. As you think about enabling the US to be the permanent preeminent soybean supplier to the rest of the world, I think this is an important part of our story,” he adds.

Syngenta still sees wheat as a strategic crop with “significant promise,” albeit one that won’t likely see the same gains from technology as corn and soybeans.

“Hybridization is going to be a key for cereals. We've got a pretty big program both in Western Europe and for North America. We expect that we'll be able to bring about a 15% yield improvement with hybridization. And we'll start to see that in its infancy around 2022 maybe, maybe 2023.”

Most of Hollinrake’s focus will be looking at investments and planning for 10-15 years down the road.

“The regions really own that zero to five-year time frame for strategy and implementation and global would be the longer-term view. That’s important because it takes about 10-11 years to introduce a new technology, or a new biotech or even a new crop protection product — along with a couple hundred-million-dollar investment.

“We can't do everything. So, we really have to be thoughtful around the proof of concept and the probability of success for each of those technologies,” Hollinrake says.

What types of breeding and new technologies will prevail?

“Ultimately it comes down to what consumers and customers want. In the US, farmers have really voted for technology and innovation. At least 93% of the US corn acres contain a biotech event. And that's because they work better. In the environment that we have, they have a higher yield, a higher return on investment. But globally, that's not the case.

“So, there will be a pretty significant amount that will be conventional, in other parts of the world. For sure, Europe, I don't see that landscape changing. But in the Americas farmers will vote for whatever allows them to make the most money.”

However, he thinks Asia will be a “frontier for biotech” and provide “new opportunities for companies like ours.

“In the Americas, I think technology's here to stay and we’re going to see additional new technologies, gene editing as an example, that will really help us take it to the next level.”

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