The Delta Optimist
'The Best Place on Earth' can't include domestic pesticides
Everyone wants to live in "The Best Place on Earth," and I am thrilled
with being a resident of Delta. However, for this to be as above, as
well as the best place for the health of all living creatures, we must
consider removing domestic pesticides (cosmetic pesticides) from
Voters have sent the message that our environment is at the top of
their list, health experts have valid data regarding the use of
dangerous chemicals and numerous communities across Canada have bylaws
banning the use of domestic pesticides.
It is our time to adopt a responsible approach in Delta so this can
continue to be "The Best Place on Earth."
© The Delta Optimist 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
For gardeners, it's never too early to begin looking at the spring
The Land Conservancy is organizing a variety of garden workshops here
in Burnaby at the Eagles Estate Heritage Garden.
Earlier this month, the organization ran a 'basic pruning and tree
care' workshop. On Feb. 28, instructor Brad Jalbert will host a
'Gardening With Roses' session.
Over the coming months, additional programs will be hosted, including
pesticide-free lawn care and a vegetable gardening session.
To register for the rose program, call The Land Conservancy at
© Burnaby Now 2009
February 11, 2009
Lawnocrats: Michigan Man Loses Case to Grow Environmentally Friendly
Pittsfield Township likes its lawns uniform and is willing to use
criminal law to enforce its lawnacratic rule. Stanislav Voskov thought
that he was doing a good thing by growing an environmentally friendly
lawn by allowing various natural plants to grow without mowing.
Pittsfield spotted some weeds of over ten inches and brought down the
law on the lawn. Now, Judge Cedric Simpson has rule that Voskov must
join the Stepford-like community in his lawn appearance.
Voskov submitted the detailed findings of a University of Michigan
horticulture specialist that it was “cultivation” for someone to
follow the “plant-and-watch” approach. SImpson wants to see more
cultivation or it will look too natural.
Jennifer Charnizon, the attorney for the township lawnocrats, insisted
that the natural look is out in the township: “The property looks
abandoned. It’s for that kind of condition … that ordinances like this
one are put in place.”
He should appeal. While the township looks foolish, the movement
toward natural lawns or no mow is a serious matter designed to
conserve water, reduce pollutants, reduce runoffs, and reinforce
native plants. Now, I admit that I have often told my wife that I was
not mowing out of a desire to grow a prairie, but there are legitimate
advocates of such lawns and not just couch potatoes like myself.
This story is yet another example of the criminalization of America.
For an earlier column, click here.
For the full story, click here
Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)
* Naturally Lovely Lawns - The Humane Society!
* Redwoods wallpaper, Sustainable Future for the Klamath, More
natural lawns …
* Coal-to-Synthetic natural gas plant!!
February 15, 2009
Column: Adventures in Multicultural Living
Column: Weeding Out The Truth
Pittsfield Township case cultivates sense of bewilderment
By Mary Morgan
The front lawn of Stanislav Voskov's Pittsfield Township home with
dandelions gone to seed. Is it natural landscaping, or just unkempt?
This photo was taken in May of 2007 by a Pittsfield Township official.
No citation was issued at that time., but one was issued to Voskov in
June 2008 for violating a township property maintenance ordinance.
If I had to pick sides, I guess I’m anti-lawn. Come summer the small
patch of land in front of our Ann Arbor home turns into a micro-garden
of pole beans, potatoes and tomatoes, with orange cosmos towering in
the narrow strip between the sidewalk and street. Much of our back
yard is filled with an herb garden, flowers and, of course, a teeter
So when Doug Cowherd of the local Sierra Club chapter contacted The
Chronicle about a dispute between Pittsfield Township and a homeowner
who’d been issued a citation over the condition of his yard, I was
prepared to sympathize with anyone who challenges the suburbian status
And then, on Feb. 5, I sat on a hard bench through 7.5 hours of
testimony in Judge Cedric Simpson’s court. I heard an awful lot about
cultivation, weeds, native gardens, organic gardeners, neighbors,
township ordinances and the definition of hearsay. I watched a drama
unfold that revealed how, in the search for a righteous cause, truth
can be inconveniently difficult to discern.
The 14A-1 District Court is housed in a one-story building off
Washtenaw Avenue, between a Lutheran church and the county jail.
People go there for small claims, landlord/tenant disputes, criminal
misdemeanors and general civil cases within the geographic range of
Saline, Milan and several townships, including Pittsfield. The
building shows signs of age, as do its wood-paneled courtrooms, with
fluorescent lights, ceiling fans, microphone cords snaking down from
the ceiling and pew-like benches for the public. Judge Simpson has
presided there since 1999. On the day of this hearing, newly-elected
Judge Chris Easthope was presiding in the adjacent courtroom.
Security is fairly tight: no cell phones or other electronic devices
are allowed without special permission, and I had to take my boots off
to be scanned (it turns out, there are metal shanks in the soles that
would have set off the alarm). The security guards and bailiffs are
generally retired law enforcement officers or they have current jobs
in law enforcement and pick up a few extra hours at the court. The
ones I met were courteous, business-like and, especially after I’d
spent a few hours there, friendly. One told me about the informal
gathering of police and sheriff’s deputies – dubbed the League of
Justice, or LOJ – that meets regularly at Damon’s. Another told me
that if he were ruling in this Pittsfield case, “I’d say, ‘Cut your
Pittsfield Township’s Case
Here’s one of only a few undisputed facts: On June 23, 2008,
Pittsfield Township’s code enforcement officer issued a citation to
Stanislav Voskov – who goes by Stan – for weeds in his yard and lawn
extension that had grown higher than 10 inches, violating a township
ordinance on property maintenance that carries a $100 fine:
302.4 Weeds. All premises and exterior property shall be
maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of ten inches.
All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all
grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs
provided; however, this term shall not include cultivated flowers and
gardens. This section shall be enforced according to the procedures in
Chapter 38 of the Township Code.
What happened before and after that citation was issued? What’s the
definition of “cultivated”? That’s where things get interesting. But
the attorney for Pittsfield Township, Jennifer Charnizon, kept focused
on the one crucial question: In June 2008, was the property on Dalton
Avenue in violation of this township ordinance?
The first to testify was Edward Swope, a code enforcement officer for
Pittsfield Township. He looks the part, with glasses and close-cropped
gray hair – a contrast to Voskov, whose long hair, also gray, was
pulled back in a ponytail, tied with a green scrunchy. Swope testified
that he’d first met Voskov in September 2006, within his first week on
the job, responding to a neighbor’s complaint about an unkempt lawn.
Swope said Voskov produced a document stating he’d reached an
agreement with the township to maintain the yard this way, with
various species of plants – but the document was unsigned, and the
township denied entering such an agreement.
Nothing more happened in 2006, Swope said, because the seasons
changed. But in May 2007 complaints resurfaced, so Swope again visited
the property and testified he saw weeds higher than 10 inches. The
photo he took (shown above) was among several entered into evidence.
Swope said he and Voskov exchanged “many communications,” which led to
a third party getting involved: Katherine Czapp, an expert in natural
landscapes, who was enlisted by Voskov. (Remember her name, as she
plays a pivotal role later.) Czapp proposed a plan to create a natural
landscape in the front yard, as well as a program to maintain it.
Swope said when he returned to the property later that summer, he was
satisfied with what they’d done.
That ended the drama in 2007, but in June of 2008 Swope testified that
he again started getting complaints about the condition of the yard.
When he checked it out, he said he found grass growing higher than 10
inches. When he talked to Voskov a few days later, Swope said Voskov
told him he’d “let the front yard go” but promised to bring it into
compliance by June 23 (Voskov later denied this claim). No changes
were made to the property by the 23rd, Swope said, so he issued the
The Homeowner’s Case
Voskov’s attorney, Steve Safranek – the second attorney to represent
Voskov in this case – was in for the long haul. Before the hearing, he
told The Chronicle it would be a long night – it started at 4 p.m.,
and one of his witnesses wasn’t even planning to arrive until 7:15.
This turned out to be a surprise for both the prosecuting attorney as
well as Judge Simpson, who said,”I guess I’ll call my wife and tell
her not to hold dinner.”
Safranek came at the case from several angles:
1. Conflicting ordinances. Safranek contended there was confusion over
which ordinance applied to the situation, and cited another Pittsfield
ordinance – Chapter 38, Article II-B – that allowed weeds as high as
18 inches. That ordinance also allowed exceptions to the height
restriction for cultivated trees and shrubs, flowers or other
decorative ornamental plants under cultivation, wildflowers and
certain other plants.
Safranek said there were two different, conflicting standards at play,
and that it wasn’t clear which ordinance was being applied. Charnizon
pointed out that even under the 18-inch restriction, the property was
in violation. Judge Simpson said: “The one that’s going to matter is
the one in the court file.” At that point, Safranek said his client
didn’t have a copy of the original citation, but that it appeared to
him that the citation in the court file, submitted by Swope, had been
altered. “That’s an extraordinarily serious accusation,” Judge Simpson
said, one that alleged fraud. “You’d better be able to back it up
now.” Safranek dropped that issue, and a seemingly exasperated Judge
Simpson adjourned for a brief break.
2. Competence of Swope. In questioning Swope, Safranek challenged the
ordinance officer’s ability to identify plants in Voskov’s yard. He
asked Swope if he could name any wildflowers, cultivated shrubs or
trees. “I’ll concede that he’s not a horticulturalist,” Charnizon
said. Swope agreed that he wasn’t an expert, but said he didn’t
believe the plants he saw were cultivated. When asked, Swope said he
hadn’t measured the height of the plants with a tape measure. But, he
said, based on the height of a standard 24-inch-high mailbox, he
believed that grass and weeds growing higher than the mailbox proved
they were over 18 inches when he issued the citation.
3. Cultivation: One of the main arguments Safranek employed was to
define what it means to “cultivate.” He called Karen Reynolds, a
horticulturalist who now works on the University of Michigan grounds
crew, to testify as an expert witness. Before she could qualify as an
expert, she was questioned by Charnizon as well as Judge Simpson about
her credentials, prompting her at one point to say, “I feel like I’m
on trial – jeez! I just want to go home and have dinner.”
Charnizon said she didn’t feel that Reynolds qualified as an expert,
but that if the judge felt it would be helpful to hear the testimony,
she wouldn’t object. Reynolds had not seen the property – her
assessments were based on the photographs she was shown in court. In
some cases, she said the photos weren’t clear enough for her to make a
judgment. Speaking more generally, Judge Simpson asked her to define
cultivation. “Anything that’s planted, planned or cared for by human
beings,” she said. “Caring for” might mean simply waiting and watching
something grow, she added. But when the judge asked whether
cultivation entailed some kind of preparation and maintenance, she
agreed that it did. Judge Simpson later asked if throwing seeds into
the grass and doing nothing for three years would still qualify as
cultivation. “Yes,” Reynolds replied.
Safranek called a second witness: Michael Kielb, a biology professor
at Eastern Michigan University who teaches natural history,
ornithology and botany. However, after he was questioned about his
credentials and background, Judge Simpson declined to qualify him as
an expert witness, and he stepped down.
4. Community standards. Safranek called Jan BenDor to testify about
Pittsfield Township’s own efforts to promote natural gardens. BenDor
served as Pittsfield’s deputy clerk from 2000 to March of 2008, and
was instrumental in developing six naturalized “demonstration” gardens
on township land. Safranek showed the court a printout of a PowerPoint
presentation BenDor had developed, which she used when speaking to
community groups and which is still posted on the township’s website,
about gardening with native plants.
BenDor testified to the importance of using native plants, yet – like
Reynolds – BenDor had not seen Voskov’s property. She said she’d been
asked by the Sierra Club to get involved in the case. She also said
that in Pittsfield Township’s experience developing natural gardens,
it was important to show “signs of care,” such as weeding and
mulching. Signs of care were actually encouraged by the township,
BenDor said, but cultivation can be a very subjective standard. That’s
why the township had been working to come up with an ordinance to
address this issue, setting standards that were clearer and more
friendly to this type of gardening. “We didn’t want to micromanage
people’s yards,” BenDor said. “Sure,” said Charnizon. “Neither do we.”
5. Testimony of Voskov and His Fiancée. The next witness on Voskov’s
behalf was his fiancée, Mariya “Masha” Odintsoea. She came to the
stand with a stack of books on organic gardening, and testified that
both she and Voskov had an interest in the environmental movement.
They wanted to develop a front and back yard that would be a habitat
for them and for wildlife. They also have extreme sensitivity to
chemicals, she said. When their relationship began nearly seven years
ago, she said, Voskov started mowing his lawn with a push mower
because they didn’t like the noise and fumes of a gas-powered machine.
They also were thinking of having children at some point, and didn’t
want their kids crawling in a yard loaded with pesticides.
Until a few months ago, Odintsoea lived in Chicago, visiting Voskov
about once a month. At some points in her testimony, when she talked
about the work Voskov had done in the yard, Judge Simpson warned
Safranek to keep her testimony restricted to what she knew, not what
Voskov had told her. Later, when Charnizon asked her why Voskov didn’t
continue employing the organic gardener, Odintsoea said it was her
understanding that the gardener was too busy with other projects.
When Voskov was called to the stand, he brought his own set of books.
A computer consultant who’s lived in his Pittsfield Township home for
21 years, Voskov said he chose a different type of cultivation for his
yard starting in 2006. He was influenced by friends in Ann Arbor, he
said, and he wanted to have a yard he’d be proud of when they came
over to visit. He estimated that he spent more than 100 hours tending
to the yard, saying that manual labor is the best way to eradicate
unwanted plants like dandelions, which he said he pulled by hand. He
said he spent hundreds of dollars buying plants for the yard between
2006 to 2008, and worked with the organic gardener, Katherine Czapp,
until she told him she was too busy to continue. Voskov said he did
everything he could to comply with the township’s ordinances.
Later, Charnizon questioned him about what exactly happened with
Czapp, noting that when Czapp was working on the yard in 2007, Swope
didn’t issue a citation. Voskov said it was a family matter – Czapp
was his stepmother, he revealed, and there was a family fallout that
had nothing to do with the yard. Judge Simpson asked, “Why are you
telling us this now, when before you said she was too busy?” That’s
what she said at the time, Voskov responded.
Charnizon also questioned Voskov about what happened during a visit to
the property in August of 2008, two months after the citation was
issued. Among those who visited the property were Voskov’s previous
attorney Joe Lloyd, Judge Simpson, Charnizon and Swope. (Swope had
previously testified that during the August visit, the yard was in the
nicest shape he’d ever seen it. Pictures from that August trip showed
that mulch had been placed around some plants, and flowering plants
During that August visit, the group had toured Voskov’s back yard
because of concerns that the trees, shrubs and other natural growth
there prevented access to utility lines. Voskov said the judge asked
him if he’d agree to cut a swath of several feet around the edges of
his back yard. Voskov said that before he could answer, his previous
attorney agreed. Voskov said he felt it was posed as a court order,
not a discussion or agreement. He said his impression was that he’d
have to cut down everything.
Charnizon later asked, “You’ve never been told you have to mow
everything down because it’s too tall, right?” After a long pause,
Voskov said, “I don’t recall.”
Still later, Charnizon asked: “Is it your testimony that you didn’t
give consent to have all of us enter your back yard?”
“Nobody asked me that question,” Voskov said. “I was never given the
option of denying you access to the back yard. I assumed I had no
That prompted an exasperated Simpson to say, “I’m done. I’m done.”
After this exchange, Safranek returned for follow-up questions. He
asked if anyone told Voskov that he needed to give them permission to
enter the back yard. Voskov said no. Did he know that he had the
authority to deny them entry? No. Did he believe he was ordered to cut
a four-foot swath around the property? Yes.
“Ordered by whom?” Simpson asked. By the court, Voskov replied.
Simpson handed Voskov the court file and told Voskov to find that
order. “I do not see it,” Voskov said. “That’s right,” Simpson said.
Though Voskov had said he cut a swath around his yard, Charnizon noted
that it hadn’t, in fact, been clear-cut – she handed him a photograph
showing many shrubs and trees that had been tagged within that swath,
and that were still in place. “You can’t have it both ways,” she said.
“You can’t say the judge ordered you to clear-cut, then say you
complied except for mature trees and shrubs that were tagged.”
By now it was approaching 11:30 p.m. and everyone seemed exhausted. “I
have some serious questions regarding the credibility of these
witnesses,” Judge Simpson said. The late evening ended with scheduling
for a date to hold closing arguments and for the judge to issue his
ruling. “I’m willing to stay tonight,” Charnizon said at one point,
after several dates were proposed but rejected because of scheduling
conflicts. “If I didn’t have 40 cases tomorrow morning,” Simpson said,
“I would, too.”
The date was finally set for Monday, Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m.
The cast of characters reconvened on Feb. 9 in the same courtroom.
(I’d come to view the courtroom as a theater, with each person acting
out their ritualized roles and quirks of personality, including the
near-silent court recorder and the bailiff, who spoke with a rich,
booming baritone when swearing in witnesses.) It was quieter in the
building than the previous Thursday – no other court was in session,
and the doors closed at 4:30 p.m. to the public.
Simpson began the proceedings by outlining the history of the case.
Simpson said that following the August 2008 visit to Dalton Avenue,
Voskov had reached an agreement with the court about how to maintain
his yard – a claim that Voskov had denied in his Feb. 5 testimony.
Simpson noted that on two separate dates last fall, Voskov failed to
appear in court. Simpson also said that Voskov had entered a plea in
January 2009, which Voskov later claimed he felt coerced into making.
Simpson said he didn’t believe Voskov was coerced, but that the court
had set aside the plea to give him the benefit of the doubt.
When Simpson concluded his remarks, Charnizon gave the closing
argument for Pittsfield Township. She said the township’s moderation
was apparent in this case. Swope didn’t issue citations in 2006 or
2007, and hadn’t even issued a citation in 2008 until he was told by
Voskov to talk to Voskov’s attorney. Voskov and his current attorney
have implied that this is a vindictive prosecution, Charnizon said.
“That’s simply not the case.” The township had the authority to mow
Voskov’s property, but didn’t. They could have issued a citation every
day that they found the property in violation of the ordinance, but
didn’t, she said.
Nor is it about aesthetics, Charnizon continued. In June, the property
looked abandoned – that’s the kind of condition that the township
ordinance is in place to address. She noted that even one of Voskov’s
own witnesses – Jan BenDor – said the township was promoting natural
gardens, but that those required at least minimal signs of care.
Voskov’s testimony about the amount of tending he gave his yard
“strains credibility,” Charnizon said. As long as Voskov’s property
showed some minimal evidence of care, she said, “that’s all we’re
Safranek’s closing statement was rocky, frequently challenged with
objections by Charnizon and Judge Simpson over misstatements of fact.
He said he didn’t think the property “in any way looks abandoned,” and
that it was possible to take photographs of any property and make it
appear abandoned. As evidence of care, he pointed out that dandelions
in a photo from 2007 were no longer in evidence in 2008: “There aren’t
any dandelions,” he said. “There aren’t any dandelions!”
At one point, Safranek said the township is obligated to enforce the
ordinance that’s most favorable to the homeowner. Simpson asked, “Do
you have authority for that position?” Safranek said he could deliver
a legal brief on the issue the next day. “No – I’m issuing a ruling
tonight,” Simpson said. When Safranek again made the claim, Simpson
said “if you keep saying it’s the law, you have to cite it with
“Don’t challenge me, counsel,” Simpson said. “Not today.”
Judge Simpson gave his ruling immediately after closing arguments
He said he wasn’t called on to decide whether or not maintaining
someone’s property in a certain way was good or bad. Rather, the sole
issue is whether in June 2008 the property was in violation of the
township ordinance. The photos taken in August, which show the yard in
better condition, distort the question, Simpson said – the citation
wasn’t issued in August. (He was perhaps referring obliquely to an Ann
Arbor News article, which included a photo of the property provided by
Voskov and taken in August 2008.)
Both township ordinances that deal with weeds also talk about the
concept of cultivation. Safranek had argued that because the two
ordinances are inconsistent, they can’t be enforced. “This court would
very strongly disagree,” Simpson said. And even if the court applied
the 18-inch height to this case, there would still potentially be a
The crux of the case is the term “cultivate,” Simpson said. He argued
that courts must apply “ordinary and plain meaning” to words, and he
found that the expert witness’s definition of the term was, for the
purposes of this case, “useless.” Simpson said that in looking at the
photos of the property taken in June, he found nothing to indicate
that the property had been cared for. He found Jan BenDor’s testimony
useful, especially her discussion of “signs of care.”
Simpson said he found that Swope’s testimony was credible. However,
Voskov’s testimony and actions “are extraordinarily troublesome to
me,” Simpson said. Simpson said he’s extremely aware that people see
and hear things differently, and that when those differences arise in
court, people aren’t necessarily lying, they just have conflicting
perspectives. “Where I get troubled is where it extends beyond that,”
he said. Voskov testified that there was no agreement for the court to
enter his property in August 2008, but “there certainly was
agreement,” Simpson said, “and that was the reason that everyone was
out there.” Voskov also testified that he didn’t give consent for them
to enter his backyard. That’s troublesome, Simpson said, because “he
led the way, with no objection until now.”
Even so, Simpson said he gave Voskov the benefit of the doubt. But
that changed when Voskov testified first that the organic gardener
parted ways because she was too busy, then later revealed that she was
his stepmother and they’d had a falling out.
“I traced back through my notes and in my mind to attempt to give
every benefit of the doubt to the respondent, that there wasn’t an
attempt to mislead this court as to who this person was,” Simpson
said. But he came to the “inescapable conclusion” that there was, in
fact, an attempt to mislead. ”I don’t find his testimony has any
credibility or carries any weight whatsoever with this court.”
Simpson said that he could recall only one other time in his 10 years
on the bench when he’d reached that conclusion.
With that, Simpson ruled that Voskov violated the ordinance in June
2008. In addition to the $100 fine, Simpson awarded “reasonable”
attorney fees to the township, to be billed at a later date. “And that
is the ruling of this court.”
It’s possible that Voskov will appeal his case, especially if he’s
emboldened by support from environmental groups. And certainly the
broader issue won’t go away – particularly in the Ann Arbor area,
where plenty of people still hate the look of an un-mowed yard, but
where advocates for natural gardens and the use of native plants have
a strong voice.
The irony is that Pittsfield Township officials have been among those
advocates, too, but now find themselves portrayed as some kind of
manicured-lawn-loving fascists. That hardly seems the case.
So township officials face the PR challenge of defending themselves in
a society that loves to overlook inconvenient facts, especially when
those facts get in the way of a good David-vs.-Goliath story line.
That’s true even on the national level, where the case is getting some
attention: Jonathan Turley, a legal expert and professor at the George
Washington University Law School, wrote about the case on his blog,
calling township officials “lawnocrats.”
“He should appeal,” Turley wrote, referring to Voskov. “While the
township looks foolish, the movement toward natural lawns or no mow is
a serious matter designed to conserve water, reduce pollutants, reduce
runoffs, and reinforce native plants … This story is yet another
example of the criminalization of America.”
Copyright 2009 The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
Warning Industry Propaganda Below
Sat. February 14 - 2009
Dow may need to sell agro biz
Struggling parent could rake in cash by dealing profitable local
by Peter Schnitzler - firstname.lastname@example.org
Financially strapped Dow Chemical Co. acknowledges it may sell
Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences LLC, the ag-chemicals-and-biotech
firm that’s one of the biggest jewels in the city’s life sciences
Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris said on a Feb. 3 conference call with
analysts that the Midland, Mich.-based company has teams working with
investment banks to evaluate potential buyers for 12 major assets,
including Dow AgroSciences.
Liveris, 54, made clear Dow Chemical would be a reluctant seller, but
needs to raise cash.
“We are very proud of the [AgroSciences] business. It’s a high earner.
In the last five years, we’ve invested in it. It generated a great R&D
pipeline … a lot of great niches and, in fact, good positions around
the world in various crops and in various chemical markets,” he said.
“But having said that, I would tell you that all options are on the
The Indianapolis company launched in 1989 as Dow-Elanco, a joint
venture between Dow and locally based Eli Lilly and Co. The company
adopted its current moniker in 1997, when Dow bought out Lilly’s 40-
percent share for $900 million.
The company long has produced commodities like pesticides and
herbicides, and is still best known for its bread-andbutter
agricultural chemicals business. But under CEO Jerome Peribere, 54,
who took charge in 2004, Dow AgroSciences increasingly has
concentrated on biotechnology, using genetics to create plant vaccines
and new strains of seeds.
The shift has revved up the financial results of the company, which
employs 5,400, including 1,100 locally at its Zionsville Road
headquarters near West 96th Street.
Dow AgroSciences in the fourth quarter reported record revenue of $885
million, despite a decline in ag chemical sales caused by product
shortages and lack of available credit for farmers in some regions.
For the year, Dow AgroSciences’ revenue rose 20 percent, to $4.5
billion, and operating profit rose 36 percent, to $761 million.
Helping ratchet up revenue was the company’s acquisition of nine
hybrid seed research companies and related high-tech production
facilities over the past two years.
Peribere said at a Feb. 10 bio-ag conference in New York that Dow
AgroSciences has been able to push up profit by increasing revenue and
holding expenses virtually in check.
“Simply put, our strategy is paying off,” Peribere said.
The business accounts for less than 8 percent of Dow Chemical’s sales,
but is one of its few bright spots.
The Michigan company reported a $1.6 billion loss for 2008’s fourth
quarter due to recession-driven decline in demand for its plastics and
Dow Chemical also is struggling with a pair of fizzling mega-deals
that are now entangled in litigation. Late last year, a planned joint
venture with Kuwait’s state-run Petrochemical Industries Co.
Kuwait was to have funneled $9 billion into Dow Chemical’s coffers,
allowing it to complete the $15.3 billion acquisition of Philadelphia-
based Rohm and Haas Co.
Dow Chemical has sued Kuwait to close the first deal, and Rohm and
Haas has sued Dow to try to force it to complete the second. While
courts consider the fate of each transaction, Dow Chemical is
considering a spectrum of unattractive options to raise cash,
including slashing its dividend, closing plants, borrowing that might
lead to downgrades of its debt rating to junk status, or selling new
stock at a depressed price.
TheDeal.com reported this month that Dow Chemical likely could raise
$10 billion by selling Dow AgroSciences along with its 50-percent
stake in Dow Corning Corp., a maker of silicone-based products.
The mergers-and-acquisitions publication listed potential buyers of
Dow AgroSciences as DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition, Syngenta AG and
Bayer Crop-Science AG.
JP Morgan analyst Jeffrey Zekauskas said in a report that AgroSciences
is the sixth-largest player in agricultural chemicals, a $48 billion
worldwide market ripe for mergers.
“The top six global participants command approximately two-thirds of
the world market. Industry consolidation has been a meaningful trend
for the previous decade, and we expect additional rationalization over
the next several years,” Zekauskas said in his report.
“The maturity of the market, high distribution and logistical costs,
and the substantial expenses involved in research for new
biotechnological traits are key factors leading to consolidation.”
Still, analysts say Dow likely won’t sell the business unless it feels
it has no choice.
“These days, it’s basically a profit center,” said William Selesky, an
analyst with Argus Research Group.
“In light of what they forecast going forward, the difficult
challenging economic environment, I’d think they’d want to hold on and
grow those segments that are performing well.”
He said the long-term expansion prospects are strong, in part because
of world population growth.
It’s not clear how a sale of Dow Agro-Sciences might affect local
employment, though Indianapolis life sciences and economic development
leaders are hoping they don’t have to find out.
Dow AgroSciences, Lilly and Roche Diagnostics Corp. are among the
major assets that BioCrossroads, the region’s life sciences
initiative, is trying to build on.
The company is one of the founding members of BioCrossroads, and its
executives have provided an enormous amount of research and support,
said David Johnson, CEO of the initiative.
The company led development of BioCrossroads’ plan for growing
Indiana’s bio-ag industry—one of eight key life sciences sectors the
initiative has pinned its hopes on.
Johnson said there are plenty of compelling reasons for a buyer to
keep a major presence here, such as concentration of biotech expertise
and the company’s continuing relationships with Lilly and Indiana’s
“Without them, we’d probably be missing an entire component of an
integrated life sciences strategy,” Johnson said. “I would expect that
going forward, whether part of the larger Dow organization or an
independent company, it’s only going to grow here on this landscape.”
The last time Dow sold an Indianapolis-based business, the impact was
In 1998, S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. of Racine, Wis., purchased locally
based DowBrands, maker of Ziploc bags and other consumer products, for
$1.1 billion. DowBrands had annual revenue of $800 million and
employed 1,000, including 300 in Indianapolis. Soon after the deal
closed, Johnson shut down the Indianapolis headquarters. •