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Bayer looks ahead to the future

Bayer CropScience’s CEO says its product range and focus on research drives success

In late August at the U.S. Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP for North America, spoke to ag media about Bayer’s business.

Some customers might be put off by the sheer size of Bayer, a multinational company headquartered in Germany. When all facets of the company are included, from health care to materials science, Bayer’s 2014 gross sales were 42 billion Euros (that’s $62.6 billion Canadian dollars). Bayer’s Crop Science division alone has 23,000 people working in more than 120 countries.

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Farmer holding soybean

But Blome explained that Bayer’s large size allows it to examine the entire span of life, “from plants to animals to humans.” Sometimes, he said, that can lead to efficiencies. “Mining the overlaps and the opportunities between plant, people and pet research is a growing part of Bayer’s strategy,” he said.

As an example, Blome cited Velum Total, a new Bayer insecticide/nematicide available to U.S. farmers. This product, he said, “starves nematodes of oxygen and thus gets rid of the pest.” Because Bayer deals with more than just agriculture, Blome said, “When our crop science researchers shared this unique suffocation approach with colleagues in our pharmaceutical group, light bulbs began to go off in their minds. What if such a product might work to throttle cancer cells?”

“Today, early collaborations between crop science and health care include research on proteins that could act as building blocks for new drugs.”

Bayer’s large size also means large investments. “Bayer invests about $1 billion every year in research and development,” Blome said. In 2015, Bayer has brought five new products to the U.S. ag market. Between 2016 and 2022, he said, “we are expecting to bring 25 new solutions to the marketplace.” These will include chemical solutions as well as biologicals.

Bayer is bringing its bulk on board the digital farming train. “Bayer’s ambition in this space is to develop, validate and commercialize a software-based analytical platform that translates agronomic data — things like genetics, weather and management practices — into insights that deliver personalized field-specific recommendations to farmers that can help them move from precision to decision. And, optimize their crop inputs and improve their return on investment,” Blome said.

Following the logic that sometimes the best new research is done by nimbler, smaller companies, Bayer CropScience is working with two venture capital groups. This, said Blome, will “provide us a window into these new innovation areas that we’ve never had before.” For instance, he said, “The application of IT technologies to data collection, in particular, is attracting new people that have never been involved with ag. And along with them, a whole lot of new ways of thinking about solving agricultural problems.”

Hybrid wheat

Along with other major players, Bayer is getting into hybrid wheat. Lloyd McCall, Bayer’s North American soybean breeding lead explained that Bayer is already No. 1 in the world in cottonseed and canola, and a world leader in rice and vegetables. “Based on the success we had with cotton, canola and rice, we expanded into soybean and wheat a few years ago. Our intention with these two crops, soybean and wheat, is to also be a serious competitor in both the U.S. and global markets.”

To build up a pool of resources for its researchers to work with, Bayer has purchased germplasm and entered into collaborations with companies that had their own. “Our focus is on hybrid wheat that will have new yield levels and improved yield stability and native traits for both yield and herbicide tolerance.”

Bayer’s wheat-breeding program operates in two U.S. states, Canada, across Europe and in Australia.

Bayer and soybeans

“We see Western Canada as a growth opportunity,” said Bayer’s Diego Angelo, soybean seeds marketing. Globally, he said, there are still two areas — Western Canada and Brazil — with room for more soybean acreage. “Western Canada could be significant,” Angelo said.

As for Bayer’s research into soybeans with an even-shorter growing season, Angelo said, “We are looking at potential opportunities. We have identified a partner that we might work with.” He expects Bayer will make a decision in this area “pretty soon.”

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