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Q&A: Paul Rea, BASF Crop Protection

Paul Rea, senior vice president of BASF Crop Protection division for North America, recently hosted an intimate farm-to-table dinner outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, as a way to encourage dialogue about food and farmers. There Successful Farming Digital Content Editor Natalina Sents had a few minutes to ask about the latest products for farmers and how the company plans to serve farmers through continued weather, trade, and market uncertainty.

SF: Can you give an update on how things have come along since acquiring some of the Bayer portfolio last year?

PR: Day one of transferring the assets to BASF was August 1, 2018, which is not that long ago. It has been about nine months, so we’ve been really busy since then.

First was a real focus on welcoming about 4,500 new employees to our organization. That’s a big addition. In our ag division globally, we had about 8,000 employees. So it’s about a 50% increase. We focused a lot on the welcome because we knew that our new employees had a lot of knowledge, expertise, and had great capabilities that we wanted to make sure we brought into the BASF family. That’s been a real priority for us and that has been ongoing, I would say. But I think we’ve had real success there.

The second area was really making sure our customers didn’t notice any interruption in what we did in terms of product supply, availability, and customer service. We’ve tried to keep those service levels really high, both in the field and in the supply chain. I think that, nine months in, we can say we’ve largely been successful there, as well.

The third area we’ve been focused on is learning a lot about what we acquired and how it fits within the organization. Where is the opportunity to innovate further? How will we take those offerings to growers for greater success in the future? That’s an ongoing process that won’t end.

SF: Tell me more about the products you are learning about and how they may benefit farmers.

PR: We’re really excited about what we see. Whether it be the hybrid wheat program that we’ll see here mid next decade with the ability to increase yields. It’s got lots of opportunity there to improve yields and really benefit from hybrid production.

Or, whether it be our seed-treatment business that we’ve been able to combine with the BASF offering with a good biological fungicide offering and coatings with, now, the leading insecticide biological offering with Poncho Votivo and Ilevo, which is also a major brand now for many parts of the country.

It has been fun to put those together. As an example, there, instead of having it in our traditional crop-protection business, we actually established a brand-new seed treatment organization for North America with dedicated experts, key account managers, and have really started to identify opportunities to innovate those products, as well.

SF: Can you tell me how many of those 4,500 employees that were added to the BASF team are in customer support roles directly facing farmers?

Of those 4,500 people, about 1,800 were in North America. A good portion of them were in R&D.

We actually added on top of that, as well. We hired additional people to supplement our own field teams. We hired a good number of seed advisers across the Midwest to help support our Credenz product offering, which were not there before. It was not just taking on board what was transferred in terms of people, it was actually added to, as well.

SF: You mentioned hybrid wheat and seed-treatment innovation. What else can farmers look forward to seeing from BASF?

PR: We’re expecting EPA registration really soon on our new triazole fungicide, Revysol. We shared the news at Commodity Classic. It really looks to be a completely new level of disease and plant health performance with Revysol. So, we expect that to be registered here in the second half of this year. That will redefine our entire fungicide offering. There’s been lots of triazoles in the market, but this really does raise the performance of triazole chemistry to even offer disease control in triazole-resistant strains. So, it’s performing at a much, much, much higher level.

We also have a combination product we’re going to bring to market for our Engenia portfolio for our dicamba-tolerant soybeans called Engenia Pro. It will be a combination product to offer broader weed-control solutions. That will be another launch we expect later this year, again subject to EPA registration.

On top of that, we also have our GT 27 Credenz soybeans. We’re also waiting for final EPA registration there, as well.

SF: Spring is a time filled with anticipation for the next growing season. What are you looking forward to for the 2019 crop year?

PR: Getting the crop in the ground first. I think it’s been a tough start. Since last fall, farmers had real trouble doing the fieldwork they wanted – from applying nitrogen to applying burndown products – and that has, unfortunately, continued. I just saw the latest numbers. I think we’re at 15% of the corn planted vs. a historical 29%. So, I can imagine farmers are getting pretty frustrated and uptight about where they’re at in the season. There’s also been a lot of flooding. I think that’s going to be a big concern, and it is a concern for us as well. We have research facilities. We want to get our crops in the ground for our research and development purposes. I think it has been a pretty tough seven or eight months for farmers, and I’m sure they are anxious to get that crop in the ground.

SF: Yes, the farmers I’ve talked to are frustrated with all the uncertainty in the business right now. From those weather concerns to trade and policy uncertainty in an already down commodity market. How do all these factors snowballing at once impact the way BASF goes to market with products for farmers?

PR: I think being customer focused is really important to understand the pressures that they feel. It allows our field team and our customer-facing teams to empathize and to offer solutions to the big issues farmers face, whether it be, you know, ‘Hey, my margins have never been this tight. Help me decide which products I should use this year, and what products are going to deliver the best results.’

Sometimes that is to reconfirm that they should stick with things that deliver yield and improve returns. An example would be seed treatments. Some people might say that’s an optional treatment, but we’ve seen for years now that the benefit and value of actually still applying seed treatment does pay for itself. So, sometimes it is a bit of confirmation to stick with your plan.

I think our field team and innovation specialists are well-placed to actually do that. Because it is easy sometimes to think you should cut things out. That might not be the answer. It may impact yields.

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