Education is key in bridging gap between food production and consumption
Vegetable grower Allan Fong receives a steady stream of emails from customers asking about his crop protection choices. He believes that the more he can educate himself on the science behind the products he’s using, the better he can inform his customers on the quality, necessity and sustainability of his growing practices.
Through his brand, The Fresh Grower, Allan provides niche products such as Asian greens and broccolini to a “foodie” market, often exporting products to Hong Kong and China for customers with the highest expectations.
“There’s growing interest from consumers to know about how their food is produced and where it comes from,” Allan says.
“My customers will email me to find out what products I use, then Google those products and write back to me asking questions about articles they’ve read online.”
While he does his best to explain his crop protection product decisions, Allan says that it can sometimes be challenging to explain the complex science to customers, especially when they have been researching online and don't always have accurate information.
“The world’s evolving all the time and we try to be as transparent as we can,” he says.
“It’s sometimes difficult to explain the nuances between organics and science-based products to customers. They have a world of information at their fingertips but it's not always reliable.”
As a 2016 Syngenta Growth Awards winner, Allan recently returned from a study tour where he visited Syngenta’s R&D facilities in Jealott’s Hill, UK. While touring the facility, Allan had the opportunity to meet with researchers and lead scientists to get more insight into the science and development processes that go into creating crop protection products.
“It was so valuable to ask questions about the manufacturing process and protocols of the products that are produced,” he says.
Allan takes his product stewardship very seriously, working closely with agronomists and input suppliers to ensure he is following best-practice. He often contacts suppliers to find out as much information as he can about the products he uses, so that he can get the best results and provide clearer and more comprehensive information to his customers.
“The science and testing that’s put into these products is very sophisticated but that can mean it's tricky for growers to fully digest which in turn makes it hard for us to communicate it down the chain."
“It takes around ten years and US$200 million worth of R&D and thousands of scientific studies to bring a new product to market.”
Allan learned the background of product formulation first-hand and left with an understanding that the quality of branded products relies not only the active, but how the formulation is optimised.
A good quality product is dependent on many things. For example: how it breaks down in UV light, particle size and ease of application; and, in addition to the active, its efficacy is also dependent on the hundreds of other present compounds.
“The trip gave me so much more knowledge and understanding about how the process works and I can relay this with a lot more confidence moving forward.
“It really opened my eyes to how much there is to know about the products I’m using. It’s cemented my confidence that I can provide top-quality produce that meets the demand of my customers around the world.”