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Research and development

Our more than 5,000 R&D employees are accelerating the pace of innovation to develop sustainable solutions for farmers that further improve the way crops are grown and protected. We collaborate with farmers, academia and environmental groups to address interconnected environmental, societal and economic challenges.

What is the focus of Syngenta's R&D?

Our R&D program focuses on innovation to increase yields, quality, protect plants and improve resource efficiency in the field – by developing products and practices that reduce the land, water and energy needed to grow crops.

We use our deep understanding of plants and specialist expertise in seeds, Seedcare and crop protection to develop solutions that enable farmers to grow more from less and work with them to tailor our products to better meet their needs; those solutions may be based on one technology – such as chemistry or genetics – or a combination of technologies.

Growers face challenges in three key areas:

  • Biotic stress from weeds, pests and diseases
  • Abiotic stress (or environmental pressures) such as drought, reduced nutrients and irregular temperatures
  • Meeting demands from customers and consumers for improved nutritional composition, consumer appeal, shelf life and processing ease

Our research groups work together to combine technologies and develop integrated solutions that address farmer needs. The direction of new research is guided by our crop teams and based on customer need, technology, regulatory requirements and socio-political trends. R&D is at the heart of Syngenta's strategy and The Good Growth Plan.

Our Crop Protection research focuses on developing a range of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and crop enhancing chemicals with broad applicability such as foliar, soil and seed treatments. Our Seeds research and development program focuses on creating new varieties of major field crops, which include improved quality and productivity. This can include greater resistance to pests and diseases, or other environmental stresses, as well as characteristics such as improved customer appeal or enhanced shelf life.

Find out more about specific research areas

How does Syngenta conduct crop protection R&D?

Crop Protection R&D is guided by customer need, technology and regulatory requirements, and provides Syngenta with innovative chemical and biological solutions. Aligning these new products with other technologies creates maximum value for our business.

Over 2,000 people work in Crop Protection R&D. At our major Crop Protection research centers, researchers use state-of-the-art synthetic chemistry, high-speed automated synthesis and biological methods to prepare the quantity and quality of compounds required for targeted biological screening. We use a structured design approach to chemistry that helps us develop chemical entities that have the properties most likely to relate to the desired product profile.

Once an active ingredient is ready for testing, we complete a series of trials to turn promising molecules into products that are safe to use, pass all registration requirements and meet customers' needs. The active ingredient's efficacy and safety is assessed as early as possible in the development process and all data are compiled for registration and safe product use.

We then test compounds on target crops under different climatic conditions and in varying soils around the world to develop appropriate formulations and processes to manufacture the product on a commercial scale that meets the demands from our customers.

On average, the registration of any new crop protection product takes eight to 10 years and costs around $260 million before a product is commercially launched.

How does Syngenta conduct seeds R&D?

Seeds R&D is dedicated to creating new varieties of major crops that offer improved quality and productivity, either alone or in combination with other technologies. This includes improving tolerance to pests and other environmental stresses, as well as enhancing quality characteristics such as nutritional composition, consumer appeal and shelf life.

Over 3,000 employees work in our Seeds R&D to advance the performance, stability and quality of seed varieties covering over 50 food and feed crops, including our strategic crops. We have established, and continue to develop, one of the most extensive germplasm libraries in the world and we have R&D agreements and alliances with other companies and academic institutions to further extend the base of germplasm and traits we have to work from.

We develop plants with desirable characteristics using both conventional breeding (to create either inbred lines or hybrids) and biotechnology.

Conventional plant breeding involves crossing carefully chosen parent plants, then selecting the best plants from the resulting offspring to be grown on for further selection. Once the best lines have been selected, they are purified to create 'inbred' lines, in which every plant has the same characteristics, and the process of multiplying seeds begins. For many crop varieties, we produce hybrid seeds - the result of the first cross between selected parents: these seeds are unique in producing 'hybrid vigor', which leads to improved yield, performance stability and better quality.

For certain crops, Syngenta also develops genetically modified (GM) plants where one or more genes of interest have been introduced to a plant via recombinant DNA technology instead of the plant acquiring them through conventional breeding. The process involved in the development of a new biotechnology trait is very complex. It takes around 13 years from the point of discovery of a new genetic sequence, which demonstrates changes in the plant metabolism or biological activity, through to the complex registration process required by regulators. All GM crops are thoroughly assessed for their safety to humans, animals and the environment before receiving final regulatory approval.

Where does Syngenta conduct R&D?

We employ over 5,000 people in our research and development centers and field stations around the world. Our main global research and development sites are in: Jealott's Hill, UK; Stein, Switzerland; Research Triangle Park and Greensboro, NC, USA; Goa, India; Beijing, China; Enkhuizen, Netherlands; and Saint-Sauveur, France.

We have major Crop Protection research centers focused on identifying new active ingredients for crop protection products in Stein, Jealott's Hill and Goa. Our biotechnology activities primarily take place in Research Triangle Park for both the research and development of key native and genetically modified traits, and at the Beijing Innovation Center for early-stage evaluation of biotechnology traits. We also operate around 100 breeding and germplasm enhancement centers globally.

Read more about our R&D sites

Are environmental and health aspects considered throughout the R&D process?

Environmental and health aspects are considered throughout our R&D processes. We undertake comprehensive assessments of both human and environmental risks throughout the research and development process. This covers risks associated with all stages of development – from concept right the way through to final use and consumption. Our human safety assessments address potential risks to users of the product and the consumers of food and feed, while our environmental safety programs seek assurance that the product will not adversely affect soil, water, air, flora or fauna.

For a product to receive regulatory approval for registration we must first demonstrate that it is safe for workers, the environment, the crops being protected and the people or animals eating the food created from those crops.

For crop protection products, we spend about 30% of the cost of a new active ingredient on product safety. Many of the compounds we discover are not progressed past the early development stages because they don't meet our stringent safety requirements.

For genetically modified (GM) crops, rigorous laboratory and field studies are conducted to identify and assess potential toxic, allergenic or other unintended effects that may raise safety concerns. Agricultural biotechnology products are among the most stringently tested food products available on the market.

Does Syngenta profit from or contribute to external R&D activities?

We complement our in-house expertise through partnerships and collaborations to bring in novel technologies and exciting new offers to growers. We currently have over 500 R&D collaborations with universities, research institutes and commercial organizations around the world. These include collaborations with universities such as the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, Imperial College, UK, or Queensland University of Technology, Australia; or with research institutes such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and private companies such as PlantLab, Metabolon, AgBiome and Bayer CropScience.

Find out more about our collaborations on our thoughtseeders portal – our online platform that gives potential partners an easy way to share new technologies or ideas with us, as well as in our Sustainable Business Report (p. 6).