CORRECTED-Syngenta to roll out new digital ag tools in Brazil

(Corrects conversion of hectares into acres to 11.1 million acres instead of 111.19 million acres, paragraph 6)

SAO PAULO, June 16 (Reuters) - Switzerland-based seed and crop protection company Syngenta has chosen Brazil as the initial market for a new digital agriculture services platform intended to make local grain growers more competitive, a Syngenta executive told Reuters.

Because of lockdowns and social distancing, crop consultants including seed advisers and agrochemical distributors have been unable to visit farms, making technology more important to assess field conditions, said Greg Meyers, the company’s chief information and digital officer.

The digital ag tools being launched in Brazil include software and satellite imaging of crops, he said. They are intended to drive yields, save costs and promote sustainable farming in the world’s largest grower and exporter of soybeans.

Brazil was chosen as launch market after Syngenta acquired Brazilian ag tech company Strider in 2018, which already worked with about 2,500 producers in Latin America. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corp.

Later this year the platform will be available in the United States, Russia and Ukraine, Syngenta said.

Syngenta helps Brazilian farmers monitor about 4.5 million hectares (11.1 million acres) mainly dedicated to cultivating grains and oilseeds. The company hopes to double its Brazilian customers within a year, Meyers said.

Globally, farmers use Syngenta digital technology to monitor 32 million hectares.

Germany’s Bayer AG, a direct competitor, said it helps growers monitor about 36.4 million hectares worldwide using digital technology.

Digital agriculture, referring to tools that digitally collect, store, analyze and share electronic data related to crops, has become more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, the use of Syngenta’s digital offerings such as satellite photos to check field conditions increased by 400% in Brazil, Meyers said.

“COVID has actually created an opportunity for growers who were maybe not comfortable with information technology, (but) are starting to use it because they have to,” he said.

Reporting by Ana Mano and Roberto Samora in Sao Paulo Editing by Matthew Lewis