Australia’s Nufarm helps global growers feed the planet
Over a century ago, a small group of enterprising New Zealanders came together to create a business that would focus on the needs of the farming community. Their mission: to improve crop yields and provide the kind of thorough and meaningful customer service missing in the local agricultural community.
Fast-forward 40 years to Melbourne and Max Fremder, whose business selling phenoxy herbicides to professional spray applicators in regional Victoria was gaining a terrific reputation for offering quality products and delivering excellent customer service. The Kiwis and Fremder joined forces, spreading their formulas for both leading-edge crop protection solutions and superior support to growers everywhere.
That communion of forces, known today as Nufarm (ASX:NUF), is now the sixth-largest crop protection company on the planet. After rapid expansion into Europe, Asia, North America and South America, the Australia-based agricultural chemical developer’s products can be found in more than 100 countries. Nufarm employs over 3,400 people and leads the Australian agricultural industry in high-quality, innovative products and advancing technical expertise.
Throughout that long history of growth, Nufarm has kept its foundational values alive and thriving. “It’s about people working side-by-side with farmers,” noted Nufarm’s ANZ Head of Logistics, Danny Haigh. “Having an industry leading formulations team based in our Melbourne laboratories working in close partnership with field teams enables us to develop solutions proven to work in tough Australian conditions. We have always taken a hands-on, locally focused, personal approach, and that's what makes Nufarm special: making sure we're a dependable partner to the agricultural community.”
That relentless focus on dependability and the resilience of a diversified global business is reflected in strong global revenue results, despite a year of Australian drought. With its most recent financial year business results eclipsing $3 billion in revenue, during the same period, the company invested roughly $700 million dollars in portfolio acquisitions that enhance and diversify its product lines, as well as making long-term investments in its Australian manufacturing facilities of $30 million to enhance output, reliability, and safety.
Like much of the agricultural industry, weather conditions have a major influence on the firm’s distribution efforts, and as such, call for a high degree of agility. “This year we've seen a massive drought in some of the northern regions within Australia especially Queensland and New South Wales, which does impact what products are needed,” Haigh said.
On the flip side, when major rain events increase the weed pressure on farmers, demand increases significantly for trusted, easy to apply products that help contain the onslaught. “One of the big benefits we have (is) with our major local manufacturing footprint and unrivalled logistics presence that includes in-field warehouse facilities, we can work in synergy with all of our logistics teams, transport partners, and retailers so that once that as soon as our products are needed, we are very quick to provide farmers access to our solutions. Having both boots and steel on the ground here in Australia is a major competitive advantage for Nufarm and sets us apart from many of our competitors.”
Strong relationships between Nufarm’s R&D teams, industry groups and growers provide Nufarm insight into local challenges. “Gaining first-hand insight into what growers need enables us to focus the work of our local chemists and R&D teams on innovation that is truly valued by the agricultural industry. Similarly, and again guided by the needs of growers, our products are supported by a large range of product registrations, providing flexibility to address the challenges they face. We believe that through delivering this value to growers we are able to maintain close relationships and dependable partnerships,” Haigh explained.
“One example of a new and innovative product we launched last year in Australia and in some of our overseas markets is ‘Botector,’ an innovative solution which counteracts a fungus that causes very costly damage to grape crops and affects the quality of wine and table grapes.” The biological fungicide, which can be used at any time during the growing process, protects grapes from devastating “grey mould,” or botrytis bunch rot infection. Despite being new to the market, Botector’s ability to address these grower challenges is ensuring it is quickly gaining popularity.
Haigh added, “Under the Nufarm banner we have a broad complement of solutions. In addition to our core Nufarm crop protection brand, our spray equipment solutions brand Croplands and seed technology subsidiary organisation Nuseed ensure the company is uniquely positioned to support growers in Australia.”
Seeds for a Better World
“Most people look at our crop protection business and don't realize the full global scale and depth of what we do,” Haigh said. For example, Nuseed is building on their global sorghum, sunflower, and canola hybrid seeds business success by also developing plant traits for novel oils and proteins.
Nuseed’s initiatives range from enhancing the digestible energy in sorghum to get more beef, pork, chicken, and milk from the same amount of feed, to further developing drought tolerant sorghum that has similar biomass and feed energy as corn whilst using about one third less water, and developing sunflower hybrids with top agronomics for high yields and specific consumer preferences for healthy snacking. With new or substantially improved end-uses comes additional value and the need to capture that value throughout the supply chain.
An example is Nuseed’s proprietary omega-3 canola seed produced through Nuseed’s traceable supply chain system and its novel oils marketed directly to end-use customers. Designed to help relieve pressure on wild fish populations — today’s major source of omega-3s — a single hectare of this seed has the potential to provide the omega-3 yield from 10,000 kilograms of wild caught fish.
Nuseed brands utilizing the omega-3 oil that comes from crops grown with the patented seed include Aquaterra™ for aquaculture feed uses, and Nutriterra™ for human nutrition markets.
Nuseed successfully planted over 15,000 acres or 6,000 hectares of omega-3 canola in Montana under United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notification this year and received USDA deregulation approval for cultivation.
Australian regulators have granted approval for the production and use in feed and human consumption of Nuseed’s proprietary omega-3 canola. This approval facilitates additional regulatory applications in other markets that recognise Australia as a reference country.
Performance for the Planet’s Future
In June of this year, Nufarm entered into a strategic alliance with Canadian firm Farmers Edge™, a global leader in precision digital solutions for agricultural decision-making. According to the company, “Farmers Edge solutions focus on the sustainable production of high-yielding, high-quality crops and are designed to optimise inputs, minimise environmental impact, and protect economic viability of the farm. From seed selection to yield data analytics, Farmers Edge transforms big data into timely and accurate insights to support informed decision-making.”
“Farmers Edge helps our farmers get assessments of what is happening on the farm, using satellite and other technology to really look into where we can best apply crop protection products, where crops need help, and where products can have the best impact,” Haigh noted. The Farmers Edge suite includes FarmCommand™, a comprehensive farm and risk management platform that enables growers to use analytics to gain insights into crop productivity, profitability, and sustainability.
As an employer of over 600 people in Australia and a producer of complex agricultural chemicals, Nufarm is responsible for maintaining the highest possible levels of health, safety, and environmental protection across all aspects of its operations. That’s a particular sweet spot for the company. “Safety is a priority across all functions within Nufarm, whether it is ensuring our field team is equipped with carefully selected vehicles and training or investing in manufacturing site improvements, Nufarm refuses to take chances when it comes to safety” commented Haigh.
Nufarm is a foundation member of the Responsible Care Program, an environmental protection group formed by the international chemical industry. “We are leaders in corporate responsibility, working with growers and communities to make sure that what we do is not just a business that’s sustainable, but environmentally sustainable as well,” Haigh affirmed.
As a company focused on safety and sustainability, having safe, ergonomic and functional packaging has long been important for the company, “Nufarm was a pioneer in bringing the ‘Envirodrum’ to Australia, a 110 litre container which is now an industry standard,” he continued. “When introduced these containers were ground-breaking and continue to deliver substantial handling and environmental benefits.” This focus continues with Nufarm continuing to listen to its customers, transport partners, and employees for opportunities to improve packaging. Nufarm is also one of the founders of the Australian drumMUSTER program, a voluntary initiative that makes it easy and safe to dispose of empty ag chemical containers in an environmentally friendly way.
Nufarm’s company culture is underpinned by four core values: responsibility, agility, respect, and empowerment. “Our RARE values are layered in every aspect of the organization,” Haigh said. “It’s fundamental to the way we make all of our decisions, not just for growers and customers, but throughout the organization.”
Linked to Nufarm’s core values, the company has a focus on empowering employees to reach their full potential, an employee development program “Grow, Plan, Succeed” helps employees manage their goals and objectives to cultivate performance excellence. For a firm that specialises in nurturing, that’s the kind of perfect symmetry that is bound to keep Nufarm at the forefront of Australian innovation as it continues to serve the people who feed the world.