What would make me consider spending $65,000 on a new roof for my three-bedroom ranch? Solar panels, but not the kind you are thinking of. I’ve been looking at the new Tesla Solar Roof. These patented solar glass panels use invisible solar cells and look like traditional asphalt shingles or a smooth glass option for modern homes, and Tesla is working on mock terracotta and slate styles for 2018. These tiny tiles generate all the electricity that you will need for your home in an average day, and they have a lifetime warranty, “or infinity, whatever comes first.”
Just like other Tesla products, you are amazed the first time you see this technology, and like the company’s cars or rocket ships, you wonder: Why hasn’t someone figured this out before?
The answer is a mix of vision and generous investments into R&D. Some would say Tesla’s investment into new technology is borderline irresponsible, as none of its products have become profitable just yet (the Model 3 has the best chance, but production delays are jeopardizing the company’s first profitable business unit). But as a darling in the investment community, it continues to raise cash reserves in pursuit of disruptive and very cool technologies and products that integrate into everyday life. Its vision is exceptional, and its investment is unyielding. Progress and innovation have hard costs. Oftentimes it requires zealous support of investors and consumers.
R&D explores chemical research and development from the perspective of the companies that invest into the next generation of pest control products for turfgrass managers. Their investment into new technologies yields new tools that further the sophistication of plant protection.
The cost of bringing a new active ingredient to market is about $280 million if it begins with discovery and ends in a registration. That’s an average, so some are more and some are less. The AIs that we use for the turf and ornamental market are generally discovered for agriculture applications.
The global agrochemical industry is about $65 billion. Turf and ornamental pesticides are about $2 billion to $3 billion of that, according to estimates from the research firms that track this data. So T&O is a small market that benefits substantially from the global need for crop protection products. The research investment in turf generally goes to field trials, registrations and formulation technology that optimizes AIs for turfgrass applications.
Consolidation of the world’s chemical companies means that fewer companies are investing into the discovery of new molecules. In the 1990s and early 2000s, more than a dozen chemical companies consolidated into the “Big 6” multinational chemical companies to eliminate duplications in R&D infrastructure. Discovering new molecules is expensive, and a merger generally halved the costs of that development work.
Now six has become four, and aside from a handful of research companies (ISK Biosciences, Mitsui, Nippon) that sell new technologies to multinationals for marketing and distribution, they are the only ones discovering new molecules.
But not all innovation is driven by discovery. This exclusive club widens when you consider other top-tier chemical companies that invest into formulation technology, mixture/combination products, microbial additives, and other products that either work better than the previous generation products, are more environmentally friendly, or save time and money through fewer applications. You’ll find that more companies are releasing more products that have added efficacy or efficiency by reformulating older chemistries.
Additionally, the investments into product delivery, customer service and product support are not insignificant. Leading companies further invest into the people needed to deliver products and technical expertise to end users. This extends past the traditional sales rep to include support of local GCSA chapters, investment into education platforms and diagnostic support, sponsorships of events and philanthropic campaigns, and other ways companies give back to the industry outside their core business investments.
All these initiatives have hard costs, and the impact that reliable plant protection has had on the profession is worthy of the same appreciation of more tangible technologies, like rocket ships.