Taking the ‘chemical’ out of agrochemical

‘From taking care of the air to the water, ecology is very important to this company’ – Makteshim’s Yaffa Cohen-Ifrah. From corn to soybeans and canola, the Israeli company Makhteshim-Agan Industries is helping North Americans keep their crops safe. Makhteshim-Agan …

‘From taking care of the air to the water, ecology is very important to this company’ – Makteshim’s Yaffa Cohen-Ifrah.

From corn to soybeans and canola, the Israeli company Makhteshim-Agan Industries is helping North Americans keep their crops safe.

Makhteshim-Agan Industries, or MAI, is among the world’s largest generic agrochemical makers. With the motto, ‘Taking Care of Nature,’ it’s not surprising that a number of MAI’s products are also environmentally friendly.

“It is very important for us to have environmentally friendly products,” said Makhteshim’s Investor Relations officer Yaffa Cohen-Ifrah. “From taking care of the air to the water, ecology is very important to this company.”

MAI recently earmarked some $60 million for the next three years for environmentalism. Added Cohen-Ifrah: “Even though we’re talking chemicals, it’s key for MAI to put money on being as safe as we can and as clean as we can. We’re hoping to shift as much as possible to environment-friendly products. After all, we need to think about next generation.”

The people behind the company have been involved in agrochemical production for more than 50 years. MAI is made up of two giant Israeli businesses. Agan Chemical Manufacturers was founded in 1945 near Jerusalem, later relocated to Tel Aviv, and in the 1970s moved to new plant facilities near the port of Ashdod. Makhteshim Chemical Works Ltd, based in Beersheva, was founded in 1952. In 1970, it partnered up with Agan Chemical Manufacturers Ltd, based in Ashdod, a subsidiary of Israel’s largest industrial conglomerate, Koor Industries.

In 1998, Makhteshim and Agan merged their business into one holding company, MAI, and traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

“In the 90s we were selling just $200 million of products. Today we sell more than $1.5 billion,” said Cohen-Ifrah.

MAI sells its crop protection products in more than 100 countries. Its product range includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, as well as other crop protection chemicals and plant growth regulators.

“The Israeli agrochemical market is very small but the fact that we have here great scientists and technical and production people helped us build a first-class company,” said Cohen-Ifrah. “We do not see a problem with the fact that we are an Israeli company. Makhteshim Agan has been around since the early 1950s and we have managed to grow from a very small Israeli company to a $1.5 billion company.”

Over the last few years, the company decided to focus its attention on direct distribution and building the MAI brand.

“Enhancing our product portfolio in North America is part of our strategy, this is the reason that in the last two years we were very active in launching products in the US and Canada,” Cohen-Ifrah told ISRAEL21c. “North America is a very important market. The US agrochemical market is worth over $6 billion and the Canadian market is $850 million. Together it’s the largest market in the world.”

“It started back in the Seventies when MAI wanted to become a global player. It was a strategy that the company had – to make a name for itself on the global stage. It took a lot of hard work, product development, as well as other advances. Today, we have a broad product portfolio. Farmers don’t like to take chances with products because the fear of losing their entire crop is possible. It took us years to come to the point where customers were on familiar terms with our brand.”

MAI’s North American subsidiary, Makhteshim Agan North America recently obtained US EPA registration for three preemergent herbicides for the corn market, also one of the most important sources for Biofuels.

The active ingredient, acetochlor, has annual sales in the range of $200 million. MANA was the first generic company to obtain a comprehensive EPA registration for this product which will be marketed under the commercial name: First Act.
Another of the products comprises a premix of acetochlor and atrazine. This will be marketed under the commercial name Double Team. MANA will also sell a premix of metolachlor, atrazine and benoxacor safener, which will be marketed under the commercial name Parallel Plus.

“These new products are key to our growth strategy in the US,” said Dr. Effie Koren, VP Development and Global Portfolio at Makhteshim Agan. “Along with other corn products in our portfolio, MANA is now positioned to offer grower customers a very broad range of products for weed and insect management in corn.

“For Makhteshim Agan, the United States is one of the main growth drivers, and accordingly, our strategic plan calls for expansion of the portfolio of products for both the agricultural market and the non-crop market in that country,” he told ISRAEL21c.

With about 80 active ingredients in its portfolio, MAI didn’t stop at North America but rather has an emphasis on growth in Europe and South America, too. The group has production and formulation facilities in Israel and Brazil, with additional formulation facilities in Colombia, Spain and Greece.

“We’re a generic company. We wait for patents to expire and then create our products. Our products are very similar, and sometimes more advanced, to the original molecules,” explained Cohen-Ifrah.

Why buy generic when the original is available?

“Customers usually want to have options. They don’t like being locked into buying one product,” said Cohen-Ifrah. “Because we have a broad product portfolio, we not only offer variety but also save customers from having to order in advance.

“Moreover, because technology has advanced by the time we produce a generic variety of the original product, we can often manufacture a better product than the original.”

Noted for its quality standards, MAI has co-manufacturing agreements with leading industry multinationals. The company also produces a line of specialty aroma chemicals, which have achieved a reputation for quality standing in international markets.

About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.