Under the Spotlight AUS: Nufarm Limited (NUF)
Despite facing major challenges like unpredictable weather, pests and limited resources, the agricultural industry has continued to innovate to feed growing populations. Australian company Nufarm is playing a key role, developing technology that protects crops and improves yields. Let’s put it Under the Spotlight.
The development of agriculture and society have always been intertwined. Permanent settlements and reliable food supplies were important to the establishment of cities and civilisations. Food output improved in the mid-20th century as the Green Revolution helped widen the use of high-yielding crop varieties, fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation techniques.
However, making farming processes more efficient has been an ongoing challenge for the industry. As the world’s population continues to grow, we need to produce more food from limited areas of land. New methods and technologies are not just focused on increasing production levels, but also aim to reduce the chances of crop failures and food waste.
The recipe for a good harvest has multiple elements. Nufarm Limited ($NUF) focuses on crop protection and seed technology. The firm was originally established by Max Fremder in 1957 and sold herbicides in regional Victoria. It joined forces with New Zealand Farmers Fertilizer (NZFF) in 1988 to reach a larger customer base.
The team put their expansion plans into action the following year and built up a strong pipeline for exports to the U.S. New operations in Asia and Europe soon followed. There was even a foray into Latin America for a period of time, with geographic diversification one way to reduce risk for businesses in the sector.
Nufarm’s crop protection division develops herbicide, insecticide and fungicide products. These help deal with various pests, weeds and diseases. They cater towards a wide range of crops, including cereals, corn, soybeans, trees, nuts, vines and vegetables. Nufarm’s product pipeline addresses a $6.65b share out of the $61.4b global crop protection market, but the company is vulnerable to competition given it mainly operates in the off-patent market. However, to counter this, several of its new products are proprietary solutions and come with intellectual property protections.
The firm plans to leverage its new products to help it win customers from competitors, but new offerings need to meet government regulations and gain approvals before being launched. Nufarm is particularly concerned that increased political influence on these regulatory and approval systems could affect its access to the European market.
The potential impact of politics on the food and fertiliser industries was clearly illustrated through the early days of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. While Nufarm was able to provide farmers with alternative solutions and benefitted from higher commodity prices when exports from these countries were disrupted, this situation put significant financial pressure on its clients. The firm also directly experienced losses to its inventories in Ukraine.
Nufarm’s seed technology division is made up of a portfolio of seed treatments and its Nuseed subsidiary business. The seed treatments provide protection and remedies for damage caused by insects, fungus and disease, while Nuseed was established in 2006 to create hybrid crops, which could help farmers improve yields.
Hybrid seeds made up 20% of Nuseed’s sales in 2017, with the firm forecasting them to account for 98% as of May this year. Hybrids are created by breeding two plants with specific characteristics to form a new third variety, such as a seed that is disease resistant, or a seed that has more regular growth habits. Unlike open pollinated seeds, hybrids can’t be replanted each year and are much better candidates for repeat orders.
Nuseed’s core products are sorghum, sunflowers and canola, which are sold across multiple continents. In addition, the business has added upstream units that are focused on technical innovation to develop new products.
Nuseed’s Nutriterra unit is exploring options in the supplements market and has created an omega-3 fatty acid derived from canola oil. Another unit, Aquaterra, is looking at how this product can replace fish oil that is in the feed used when farming Atlantic salmon.
Nufarm expects bioenergy to be another source of growth. Nuseed’s Carinata is a non-food cover crop that protects soil between the main harvest and the next season’s planting. Carinata is also used in low-carbon biofuels, which could help reduce emissions from planes.
Nufarm is also looking into another option, known as energy cane. The firm plans to accelerate the research and development program run by Brazilian biotechnology group GranBio after acquiring its commercial assets in 2022.
How Nufarm manages its product mix could be likened to an investment portfolio - diversifying by type and geography to try to reduce risks. The agricultural industry needs to spread its finances across uneven seasons and has a high level of exposure to weather events. Nufarm itself has mentioned its reliance on third party suppliers to provide ingredients for its products.
Similar to its clients, Nufarm wants to increase its yields through efficiency rather than continuously consuming more resources. Food security is likely to remain a major concern, but there are multiple influential actors that could shape the company’s future. Only time will tell if Nufarm can achieve above market growth and fulfil its goal of growing overall revenues to at least $4.6b by FY2026.
This does not constitute financial advice nor a recommendation to invest in the securities listed. The information presented is intended to be of a factual nature only. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. As always, do your own research and consider seeking financial, legal and taxation advice before investing.
Megan is a markets analyst at Stake, with 7 years of experience in the world of investing and a Master’s degree in Business and Economics from The University of Sydney Business School. Megan has extensive knowledge of the UK markets, working as an analyst at ARCH Emerging Markets - a UK investment advisory platform focused on private equity. Previously she also worked as an analyst at Australian robo advisor Stockspot, where she researched ASX listed equities and helped construct the company's portfolios.