Participating in a media conference where annual financial results are released is not necessarily where you’d expect to find an agricultural journalist. But when it comes to global ag companies like Syngenta, such an event offers a unique opportunity to capture an overall perspective of the company’s business environment, growth strategies and outlook. The event also gives journalists unfiltered access to top executives, all in one room.

Sure, there are pages and pages of numbers that report on all aspects of the business. That’s all well and good for stockholders and the financial community. But is there news for ag producers — specifically, those in North America? Most definitely.

Farm Industry News was in Basel, Switzerland, global headquarters of Syngenta, and met with top executives to discuss the North American market.

Get all our recent updates on Sygnenta.

First, the numbers: Syngenta reported global sales of $14.7 billion for 2013, up 3% from 2012, with integrated sales up 6%. Total North American sales stood at $4.33 billion in 2013, down 2% from 2012.

From the report: “Reported sales declined due to the nonrecurrence of milestone royalties for the 604 corn rootworm trait totaling $256 million in the first half of 2012. Underlying sales were up 7% for the year. U.S. sales were also affected by constrained supply following the exceptional drought of 2012.”

To gather additional insight, Farm Industry News talked with Davor Pisk, chief operating officer for Syngenta, about the North American marketplace. What follows is our question-and-answer session with Pisk:

Could you give us a recap on Syngenta’s 2013 product performance in the North American marketplace, and some products producers can look forward to in 2014?

In 2013, Syngenta continued to make progress on many of our strategic innovations. We brought Artesian corn hybrids to greater prominence in our portfolio, and performance was exceptional. We are very excited to continue to roll out the entire Artesian range, where the benefits of unpredictable water availability can be addressed.

Our Enogen corn hybrid portfolio (traited corn hybrids developed for ethanol production) continues to gain traction. We have signed more commercial contracts and more trialing contracts.

Looking to 2014, the Agrisure Duracade trait will offer the market a new mode of action for corn rootworm control. And Clariva is a new seed-care product with a different sort of background for soybean nematode control.

Our selective herbicides around the Callisto range will continue to be important in corn, as will our Flexstar product in soybeans and burndown product Gramoxone.

2013 proved to be a good year for corn seed production, especially compared to the challenging years of 2011 and 2012. How did that impact Syngenta?

We did have the challenges in terms of profitability in 2013, particularly in comparison to 2012, where we had the high royalty recognition, which was nonrecurring. We also had the challenges to cost position in 2013 as a result of a write-off in the third quarter from the exceptional rate of corn seed production in 2013. (Syngenta reports higher-than-expected corn seed yields in the production year, rather than reporting it as excess inventory in future quarters.)

How does 2014 look?

Early indications are that we are on plan, with strong seed bookings. On the chemistry side, we are on plan, as well. In the U.S., we are still many weeks away from planting. But so far, we have seen good uptake of our offerings in terms of grower orders.

In the annual report presentation, you indicated a need for alignment of the international regulatory process. Could you explain how that impacts companies like Syngenta?

The issue we face is that different countries have different regulations and timelines for the approval of genetically modified traits for import. This is a problem for international trade in agriculture.

What we currently have in the case of Viptera (China has not approved the Viptera trait for import) is a registration dossier that was submitted in March 2010 with the same information available to other countries that have approved the trait. The U.S., Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and even the European Union have approved the trait for import.

Yet we are still waiting for final registration to be granted from China. This is causing trade disruption, and we have to work together as an industry, along with the grain trade, to create a united case for reform of these timelines.

We have established protocols that say prior registrations should be undertaken by technology providers in exporting markets, and these protocols must be science-based, predictable and transparent.

What we clearly have in a number of export markets are regulatory systems that are not transparent, not predictable and potentially not science-based either. In these situations, we believe it is unreasonable to withhold technology that is needed by growers, in markets that have fully approved the technology.

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