Seed World

IPSA CEO Todd Martin on Syngenta’s Forced Land Sale

Editor’s note: IPSA CEO Todd Martin penned the following perspective on the State of Arkansas’s Oct. 17 decision to force Syngenta subsidiary, Northrup King Seed Co., to sell 160 acres of farmland in the state because Syngenta is Chinese-owned. For more information about the ruling, check out Arkansas Forces Land Sale: Necessary or Knee-Jerk?

By Todd Martin

I say I have been in agriculture all my life. For those of you that do not know, I started my professional career in the Ag industry in 1990 with Ciba-Geigy.  

Between 1990 and 2015, through two mergers, Ciba-Geigy became Novartis and then ultimately, Syngenta. For 25 years, that company was my home. Swiss owned at the time, I was lucky to touch different disciplines in agriculture, including Crop Protection, Seeds, and Biotechnology. It was the experience from Syngenta and friends made while working with GreenLeaf that lead me to my role with IPSA.

Three weeks ago, Arkansas Governor Sarah Sanders announced that Syngenta had two years to sell a soybean seeds research facility in Bay, Arkansas, or the state would take it over.

I have many friends still working for Syngenta, and many strong supporters of IPSA. What is the problem?

The problem, from Governor Sanders, is China. Announced in 2016 and finalized in 2017, ChemChina acquired Syngenta. In 2018, ChemChina merged with another Chinese company, SinoChem.  

Todd Martin

The Department of Defense tracks the names of “Chinese military companies” operating directly or indirectly in the United States in accordance with the statutory requirement of Section 1260H of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.   

The Department of Defense is determined to highlight and counter the PRC Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise are acquired and developed by PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities.

ChemChina was named on that list in 2020 and in 2022. The announcement can be found here:

There is another list to highlight, the Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex (CMIC) list. This list identifies persons or companies subject to certain sanctions that have been imposed under statutory or other authorities. ChemChina is NOT on this list — this is important to note as companies on the CIMC are prohibited from U.S. investment.

There are reports of Chinese companies buying swaths of land near ‘sensitive’ U.S. assets and companies in the name of acquiring technology. On Sunday, Oct. 22, 60 Minutes covered the ‘Five Eyes’, (the English-speaking intelligence services leaders). 

“There is no country that presents a broader, more comprehensive threat to our ideas, our innovation, our economic security and ultimately our national security,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “We have seen efforts by the Chinese government, directly or indirectly, trying to steal intellectual property, trade secrets, personal data — all across the country.”

We are at a time when the number one consumer drone in America is the DJI drone. It is made in China. My iPhone that I use every day is made in China. So are countless other everyday devices. Where do we draw a line?

Syngenta has owned the property in Bay Arkansas for 35 years – through NK, Sandoz, Novartis, and now Syngenta.

The men and women in Bay Arkansas have been critical in developing soybean germplasm, not only for southern U.S. farmers, but also South American Farmers.

There are 38 Americans employed by Syngenta in Bay, Arkansas. Syngenta has an annual payroll there of $2.1 million. Those 38 employees and their families participate in Northeast Arkansas in a lot of ways:

  • Sponsored and participated in Jonesboro Fire Department’s Firetruck Pull to benefit Special Olympics
  • Hosted bowling tournament with proceeds benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • Grown a community garden
  • Volunteered at a local food bank 
  • Done work with Ag for Autism
  • Worked with local United Way
  • Donated to NEA Baptist HopeCircle charitable foundation.
  • Donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Donated to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks
  • Donated to Stoddard County Children’s Home

If Syngenta is forced to sell, that payroll and those jobs disappear. Those Arkansas families will be left to find other means of income, likely somewhere else.

Agriculture needs competition.  Syngenta provides competition in seeds, biotechnology, crop protection, seed treatment and genetics.  The beneficiaries [of] competition are farmers, seed companies, independent crop protection dealers and others.  We all understand that agriculture needs competition and services from Independent Seed Companies.  Agriculture needs Syngenta in the same way it needs Bayer, Corteva, BASF and other multinationals.

This is a tough time for America. We need serious people. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach.  I understand the need to monitor a foreign government controlling American property.  I do not want a foreign military to benefit from profitable assets in the United States.

I also know that there is a difference with foreign investment in the United States that benefits Americans.