Syngenta Seeds in Malta opens facility devoted to plant research with perks for area farmers

Syngenta Seeds’s new Research and Development Innovation Center devoted to research of disease- and weather-resistant plants

Andres Gutierrez, global functional head of research and development in genotyping and molecular applications at Syngenta, talks about the lab Friday, June 23, 2023, during the grand opening of the Syngenta Seeds Research and Development Innovation Center in Malta.

MALTA – Switzerland-based Syngenta Seeds’ new 100,000-square-foot facility on 88 acres in Malta is on a mission to develop crops that are more resistant to disease, formidable weather or fungus for northern Illinois farmers.

That mission was on display during a ceremony Friday as Syngenta Seeds LLC representatives cut the ribbon on its Research and Development Innovation Center, 2121 Route 38 in Malta, just shy of two years since the agrichemical company broke ground. Though headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, the company is owned by ChemChina, based in Beijing, which acquired Syngenta for $43 billion in 2017.

More important for area farmers, however, is that research and development will test seed growth right here in DeKalb County.

Jeff Halat grows grain on about 5,000 acres of land near Genoa and buys Syngenta seeds from CHS Elburn. On Friday, he said he’s happy the agriculture research facility opened because it means seeds will be researched and developed in the same type of soil and growing conditions he has on his farm.

“Soil conditions, weather conditions, everything,” Halat said. “Yeah, every area is different, so it probably benefits us a little bit more having it right here.”

We’re scientists in R&D, but we also like to get our hands dirty. We know that farmers like to tinker, so we’re going to tinker too. And then we’re going to invite farmers here to have a seat at the innovation table.”

—  Warren Kruger of Syngenta Seeds

Warren Kruger, who leads field crops seeds development in North America for Syngenta Seeds, said the creation of the innovation center was a “momentous opportunity” to expand what he called Syngenta’s research and development ecosystem. The company has facilities across the continent that conduct research into pesticides, biofuel and crops that can hold up to the ever-changing weather patterns, according to its website.

“Malta is strategically placed as a part of that ecosystem because it’s a great opportunity for us to bring R&D very close to our customers, to our partners. We want to make sure that farmers, that growers, that our customers can touch and feel and see the R&D innovation that we’re doing,” Kruger said.

Syngenta, based in Switzerland, is a global agriculture company that produces crop protection and seed products.

About 100 people gathered Friday for the building’s grand opening, including local economic development leaders.

Matt Duffy, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said Malta is an area that the chamber focuses on, considering Syngenta Seeds is one of the chamber’s annual sponsors. Duffy said he was happy to see the business grow its presence in the community.

“It’s a beautiful building, and it’s great to have a business like this in our community. ... It’s exciting to get them up and running,” Duffy said.

The innovation center has 32,000 square feet devoted to laboratories – where Syngenta Seeds researchers work to create better-growing and more plants resistant to outside threats that could halt production, including disease, weather, fungus or other irritants.

Discoveries made by Syngenta scientists researching seed genomics – the study of the structure, function, evolution and mapping of an organism’s genetic material – are taken out of the lab and then cultivated and tested on the 88-acre site in Malta.

If a particular seed shows promise, it is researched, cultivated and tested for more than two years before it’s ready for market and given to farmers, officials said.

Syngenta Seeds tests seeds throughout the Midwest. Much of that research, however, will be done in DeKalb County’s soil and climate, which is a win for local farmers, officials said.

Joe Fidler of CHS Elburn, an agricultural retailer that sells Syngenta seeds, said he was excited to see Syngenta’s R&D program plant its roots in his backyard of DeKalb County.

“Local genetics” are one of the reasons Filder said he’s excited by the innovation center in Malta.

“[Local genetics are] key because every area is different for what works in different areas, so now we’ll have stuff in our backyard that we’ll know works in our area,” Fidler said.

Kruger said plans include a chance to directly collaborate with area farmers.

“We’re scientists in R&D, but we also like to get our hands dirty,” Kruger said. “We know that farmers like to tinker, so we’re going to tinker, too. And then we’re going to invite farmers here to have a seat at the innovation table.”

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. Aug. 15, 2023 to clarify that while Syngenta is based in Switzerland, the company is owned by ChemChina, based in Beijing, China.

Have a Question about this Daily Chronicle article?