A Window on the Pipeline: Understanding Crop Protection Research and Development


For half a century, chemistry has provided the mainstay for crop protection, while conventional breeding practices have ensured the development of increasingly productive and resilient crops. Advancements in these technologies will continue to be important as global population – approaching 10 billion by 2050 – outpaces the availability of new farmland. Feeding the world requires that we use the best in chemistry, genetics and adjacent technologies – either alone or in combination – to address the challenges of Canadian growers and drive agricultural productivity to a higher level in a sustainable way.

Strategic investments in plant science research and development (R&D) allow us to develop the innovative crop protection and seed solutions which will enable Canadian growers to sustainably meet the needs of an ever-growing, more-demanding, world population. Investing in the development and protection of healthier, more vigorous plants that can withstand abiotic stress – whether cool, wet conditions like we encountered in Canada this spring, or drought, a growing global concern – can also mean higher, more profitable yields at harvest time.

Investing in Innovation

Investments in innovation made by the leading research and development-focused plant science companies are not insignificant and, due to their high cost, are borne by a handful of global R&D organizations. During 2008, the latest year for which numbers are available, annual global research and development costs reached an estimated $5 billion – equivalent to over 8.5 percent of sales, and these costs continue to rise steadily. Syngenta alone invests $1 billion. Industry R&D costs increased by almost 40% from 2000 to 2008, largely as a result of more numerous and rigorous scientific studies and field trials for various markets.

Promising crop protection products with novel modes of action and desirable properties that can meet today’s strict regulations for environmental and human health are both highly prized and rare. Behind every successful new product launch are 100,000 compounds that did not make the cut. The bottom line is that it can take a new product up to ten years and $250 million in research and development costs before it becomes eligible for sale in Canada, and it may take another ten years before the investment is recovered.

The Most Stringent Regulatory Process in the World

Here in Canada, the science around pesticides is highly regulated and rigorously reviewed by Health Canada. As crop protection manufacturers, we have to prove the product will work as we say it will – and create value at the lowest effective use rate. This is unique to Canada, and one of the reasons why we have the most stringent regulatory processes in the world. This supports public confidence in the safety of our food, but adds time and cost to the product development process. The time required in Canada for regulatory approval alone is generally two years. The road to market is long. And, it doesn’t end when a product is commercialized. Product stewardship, “the cradle to grave approach” which innovator companies follow, is an ongoing requirement. All products must undergo a complete re-evaluation of all safety data every 15 years.

Despite the quality of our regulatory process, we must be wary of misinformation and public misunderstanding about crop technology. Agriculture science has already demonstrated the powerful, positive impact it can have on community welfare and poverty reduction. Without the use of pesticides, for example, it is estimated that up to 40 percent of the world’s crops would be lost to insects, weeds and disease. Unfortunately, the public is typically unaware of this. The agriculture and food industries, as well as the government, must continue to increase awareness for the value of science, the need for increased food production – and the quality and safety of our food supply.

Canada is in a unique position to help feed the planet and strengthen our economy at the same time. This is thanks not only to the innovation and hard work of our agricultural producers, but also to the availability of new crop protection and seed technologies – and the research and development which brought them to fruition.


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