Seed companies invest billions in R&D annually to bring new genetics, traits and more to your farm. We want to introduce you to a few of the faces behind the innovations. Learn more about their story and the challenges they face. Here's the seventh of an eight-part series.
Born and raised in South Africa, Trevor Hohls has a different view on agriculture than your average U.S. farmer. He saw first-hand what extreme poverty and weaker access to agricultural technologies meant and pledged to make a positive difference.
While he wasn’t raised by a farmer, he always held a fondness for agriculture because his grandpa farmed, and he conducted experimental crosses in his own vegetable garden.
“The reason I ultimately got involved in ag was because I wanted to find a solution to food security after seeing all the poverty in Africa,” Hohls says. “That’s why I focused on plant breeding and genetics and improving food security.”
After completing undergraduate and post graduate studies in South Africa, Hohls spent a sabbatical/post doc at North Carolina State University, in the state he now calls home. He was an associate professor in South Africa for four years but ultimately wanted to work for a company in the seed industry that could help bring products to farmers.
In his early professional years he is especially proud of the work he did with Monsanto in South Africa. He and his team helped drive improved corn yields in Africa through the introduction of more competitive germplasm and value-added traits such as drought tolerance and disease and pest tolerance.
Today he works as Syngenta’s head of seeds product development. As he works with the company, he points to the promising future of genetic research as it relates to bringing farmers valuable new tools. Hohls is encouraged by the promise of new technology.
“Agriculture has been slow in the past to adopt disruptive technologies from adjacent industries. That is now changing, and we are seeing the digitization of Agriculture, where data is viewed as a core asset,” Hohls says.
“The way we develop products using enabling technologies is revolutionary,” Hohls says. “The next big thing in Ag is moving from a state where we tested products that we had created largely by chance, to where we now are able to create the specific genetic variation we desire.”
He says Syngenta is using the latest technology in areas like genome editing, protected culture, and data and analytics to bring more innovation to meet the needs of farmers around the world.
“We are not following what other large companies are doing, and are completely reinventing seeds product development and working to define differentiated value out of our germplasm and traits portfolio,” Hohls says
“We have to keep up with environmental stressors and climate change—we’re focusing on traits such as increased pests/diseases and drought and heat stress to address future challenges that growers will face,” Hohls says. “We are passionate about solving some of these problems, and Syngenta is committed to do more, working closely with farmers to drive on-farm innovation, using cutting-edge technologies and using the power of digital.”