New ecosystem collaboration sets out to change how plant disease is managed

(from Upstream Ag Insights, published with permission. Images and charts removed – fully formatted version is available with subscription here)


InnerPlant, the seed technology company enabling the earliest possible detection of stress in crops to make farming universally more efficient and sustainable, Syngenta, a global leader in agricultural innovation and crop protection, and John Deere, a global leader in the delivery of agricultural, construction, and forestry equipment, today announce a joint effort to develop an integrated solution to fight fungus in soybeans. The first-of-its-kind solution will link together plants that give off early and specific signals when under attack by fungus with optimized crop protection treatments that are delivered with See & Spray technology.

Source: Web Wire


  1. Overview
  2. What does the announcement mean?
  3. Why is this important?
    1. For John Deere
    2. For Syngenta
    3. For InnerPlant
  4. Can this collaboration work and add value to the industry? Will it work from a first-principles agronomic perspective?
  5. Will there be future additions to the ecosystem?
  6. Final Thoughts


Last September, John Deere announced it was leading the *InnerPlant Series A Investment, a company developing genetically engineered soybeans that elicit unique biosignals when they experience specific stressors, such as fungal pressure or insect feeding.

InnerPlant’s trait technology platform allows remote sensors, such as satellites, to interpret what a plant is experiencing and when. This ability to take action more proactively and precisely enables better outcomes for farmers (view the InnerPlant patent application here).

In March of 2023, InnerPlant and Satellogic announced a collaboration to launch a satellite with sensors capable of interpreting InnerPlant signals.

With the investment from Deere in 2022, it became clear that Deere’s goal was to bring sensor capability beyond satellites and directly into the field. Deere would equip its sprayers with the ability to accept signals from the InnerPlant trait, augmenting its mission for See and Spray capabilities and plant-by-plant management.

This week, the collaboration between InnerPlant and Deere expanded to include one of the largest crop protection companies in the world— Syngenta Group.

What Does the Announcement Mean?

At Deere’s Leaps Unlocked Event in 2022, the executive team stated they were looking to launch See and Spray capabilities for plant disease within the next few years.

To successfully offer a plant disease service (more on this below), they needed to partner with a company that delivered unique pathogen-based insights at the plant level, leading to the investment in and collaboration with InnerPlant.

Now, to better understand how a fungicide performs better and how broadly applied usage can be curbed in conjunction with the See and Spray and InnerPlant capabilities,

InnerPlant and Deere needed a crop protection partner to work on trials and develop not just the understanding but the ecosystem.

Syngenta is that crop protection partner that will work with them to establish a system that links the signal (InnerPlant), the interpretation, and the optimized fungicidal application (Deere) to mitigate. The companies’ consortium will start with two soybean diseases: septoria (septoria glycines) and frog eye leaf spot (Cercospora sojina).

The initial efforts with the collaboration will focus on better leveraging InnerPlant signal technology with John Deere See and Spray Technology and using plant data and equipment capabilities to create unique fungicide application approaches in soybeans.

In the October 29th, 2023 edition of Upstream Ag Professional, I highlighted that most crop protection companies, including Syngenta, had not publicly discussed their approach to navigating precision spray systems or how they would remain, leaders, when the ground shifts beneath them.

Syngenta is proactively partnering with industry leaders to navigate the looming shifts in crop protection and lay the foundation for the future of crop protection applications.

Why is this important?

This is compelling news for three reasons, with specific reasons for each player.

John Deere

John Deere has been making waves in the precision spraying world since its 2017 acquisition of Blue River Technology. Up until this point, the emphasis has been on weeds and herbicides. But suppose a farmer purchases an expensive new spray system. In that case, they will want to derive value beyond just herbicide application, and Deere intends to deliver as much value as possible beyond a singular application segment.

The thing is, it’s challenging to move beyond herbicides.

I discussed this when Deere announced their ambitions for disease, insect, and nutrition-based offerings last year.

Weeds are a different problem than these other stressors. Weeds are controlled reactively (generally speaking), whereas fungicides perform best when used proactively (before seeing the disease).

Fungicides are better thought of as a vaccine (protection provided when used before exposure). Using a fungicide after you see the disease lesion means a less efficacious outcome.

This creates a challenge when Deere relies on computer vision to apply the product.

InnerPlant enables the unique detection of disease spore germination and hyphae (spore roots) leaf penetration, which is impossible for the human eye to see and trickier to manage with other sensor technology.

The release states that the signal can be detected for up to two weeks before being visible to the human eye. This is likely emphasized to grab attention, but it isn’t as crucial for practical agronomic purposes.

What is important is the length of time between hyphae penetration and the emission of an InnerPlant signal (I will cover this in more depth in the “Will this work” section).

When I talked with InnerPlant CEO Shely Aronov, she said that they expect to see a signal from the plant within 24-48 of that spore germinating— well within the range necessary to create a viable product with John Deere.

InnerPlant acts as an enabler of John Deere expanding beyond herbicides with their See and Spray technology, which puts the Deere See and Spray offering well above any other offering on the market— if they can work to integrate a leading crop protection company into the fold, Deere then begins to change the how fungicides are used and have agronomic and crop protection management approaches evolving around their technology.


Winning the acre in the crop protection space (to oversimplify) traditionally depends on having novel intellectual property that can deliver better product performance and, ultimately, a yield bump for the farmer.

But this is at risk of shifting to differentiation coming from data and equipment capabilities.

In John Deere to Crop Input Companies: “Your Margin is My Opportunity,” I highlighted that See and Spray technology can change the point of differentiation from the crop protection product to the sprayer technology.

Today, the sprayer complements the crop protection product. As precision spraying becomes more broadly adopted, crop protection complements the sprayer. This shifts the locus of differentiation from the crop protection to the sprayer— commoditizing the crop protection product.

In other words, this puts Syngenta’s product margins and market share at risk.

This leads to further changes in product selection at the agronomist and farmer levels and in the customer purchase journey, and it becomes detrimental to standard program bundling practices within the industry due to these changes.

However, suppose Syngenta can better understand how to work with a novel plant signal and the data (InnerPlant) and precision application technology (Deere). In that case, Syngenta can identify new formulations (e.g., different rates) and new molecules or begin to adapt their labels to integrate with See and Spray. For example, today, labels are based on crop stages. If Syngenta can illustrate that their products perform better based on proprietary data at different plant stages, then they evolve the decision-making process for application. It also could mean that every time a See and Spray equipped John Deere sprayer goes over a crop in season, Syngenta fungicide would be in the tank.

This could differentiate Syngenta from other competitor fungicide offerings, potentially allowing them to create novel pricing structures or bundles. It would also associate Syngenta tightly with Deere, the North American market share leader in sprayers.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the announcement is with Syngenta Group, not just the Syngenta Crop Protection business unit, which expands in potentially to ADAMA or the Syngenta Seed division, for example.


There aren’t many agtech start-ups collaborating in a consortium fashion with not one but two leading agribusinesses. InnerPlant is unique in enabling ecosystem collaborations with industry incumbents.

If companies like John Deere and Syngenta begin not only to use but also to rely on novel plant data and signals that are proprietary and novel to InnerPlant, they will solidify their market position for the future and create an increased demand for their trait technology among leading seed companies. A core part of their future business model will likely see significant sums through trait-based sales.

This collaboration is the growth of an ecosystem. Ecosystems allow firms to create value that no single firm could have created alone. More on this below.

Can this collaboration work and add value to the industry?

It’s worth noting that I wrote the above benefits to Syngenta and Deere as if the collaboration delivers successful outcomes.

All parties must do a lot of work to achieve this, and first-principle realities need to be managed.

In June 2022, I highlighted Intelinair’s new disease-detection product and examined important considerations relevant to the John Deere, Syngenta, and InnerPlant collaboration.

Polycyclic diseases (like septoria and frog eye leaf spot) constantly move through their reproductive cycles, producing spores that then move through rain splash or wind to other parts of the plant or areas of the field and infect there. This can occur multiple times per season. The disease lifecycle can sometimes be as rapid as 5-7 days from spore germination to sporulation.

Next, we need to consider the performance of fungicides when applied in conjunction with the disease lifecycle. Prevention is optimal. Most studies show that it’s harder to obtain an ROI from a fungicide once you see a disease.

Ideally, it is applied proactively. Nothing in farming works out ideally, though.

This is where there is a fit for this collaboration and why I highlighted how rapidly InnerPlant can see a signal— 24-48 hours after spore germination.

What happens if a fungicide gets applied between spore infection of the plant and disease spore production?

Commonly used fungicide groups in North America are 3, 7, and 11.

In groups 7 and 11 are primarily known as preventative activity (applied before infection), while group 3’s have what’s known as some curative activity. This means they cannot kill the fungus infecting the plant once the hyphae have penetrated the leaf.

Consider the below chart from a study that did work to understand the efficacy of proactive fungicide applications and post-infection fungicide applications on leaf disease.

Note this for soybean or septoria/frog eye leaf spot specifically (I could not find any

specific work). What else is worth noting is that most fungicides are multi-active ingredient- based today, meaning performance is likely to be improved across the majority of timelines below), but illustrates the general performance variation from pre-disease to post-disease

Source (Note: this is ONE chart from the study linked, and it is the first chart in the study; there is variation between the disease by crop and by fungicide active ingredient)

We can see that generally applying fungicide 1-5 days before the spores were present was better than 1-5 days after the spores were present. However, there was still efficacy against the diseases that can help deliver an ROI. This means we “ideally” would apply a fungicide five days before infection up to 3 or so days after infection to get optimal results.

Timeliness today, at least without switching up the types of active ingredients, formulations, and rates, is crucial— in going through the study, there is a general drop- off in fungicide performance three days after infection.

In the context of John Deere, which today sells more expensive pieces of equipment that aren’t always in the field at the exact time necessary, there are challenges to the current way of farming that could limit the success, given the realities of how not just disease, but insect and nutrition stresses arise in season.

In Solinftec and the Solix Autonomous Platform: Reimagining Farming from First Principles, I shared the following image that is relevant to this collaboration as it pertains to See and Spray and the realities of plant disease:

Today, being in the field at the correct times is necessary. This is where the consortium approach becomes more compelling.

Syngenta may be able to work at bringing novel molecules to market that are curative and perform well later in a disease life cycle but may have been too expensive to bring to market in a broad application setting. It also could be where Satellogic and InnerPlant’s announcement earlier this year connects to Deere and autonomous tractors, or this consortium could be the start of Deere thinking about different machinery structures that bear resemblance to Solinftec’s approach to the market, as one example. With Agritechnica starting soon, I was looking at photos from when I attended in 2019 and had a picture of a machine from Deere that does have a similar look to Solinftec’s unit:

I am sure there will be learnings throughout the collaboration— given Deere’s investment and commitments, there is unlikely to be a shortage of effort to figure out how to turn the fungicide See and Spray product into a reality.

Will there be future additions to the ecosystem?

The InnerPlant and John Deere ecosystem is growing. The current ecosystem looks like the following:

Arguably, Syngenta could also be the partner for insects, herbicides, and seeds. There is a significant opportunity on the nutrition and fertilizer side of things— optimizing nitrogen and phosphorous utilization are substantial opportunities for agronomic outcomes and environmental ones. And if we think about the group that influences the

recommendation and application of those nutrients, we can see ample opportunities for retail groups to get involved. While their focus for the short to medium term likely prioritizes disease and fungicides, it seems pertinent for nutrition companies to look at how to get involved early.

Final Thoughts

There has been significant talk of plant-by-plant management from the likes of John Deere. They have done a great job developing the capability for weed-by-weed management. To enable their vision of plant-by-plant management, there is an opportunity to develop further the infrastructure and collaboration to deliver better outcomes to farmers, driving the value of their technology.

I will expand on a notable insight regarding ecosystem management in the coming weeks. This insight applies to many founders and agribusinesses looking to innovate within agriculture.

Related: Glow-in-the-Dark Soybeans Will Help Farmers Fight Fungus – Bloomberg