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Five Factors You Should Know About Bayer Crop Science

Technology acceptance is biggest risk the German firm faces, say its leaders.

Bayer Crop Science executives gave members of the agriculture media an update of the German firm’s activities at this week’s 2017 Future of Farming Dialog at Bayer’s global headquarters in Monheim, Germany. Here are five factors on their minds.

1. Technology acceptance is the biggest risk Bayer Crop Science faces, says Adrian Percy, global head of research and development for Bayer Crop Science.

An example of this is the bans and/or restrictions on neonicotinoid seed treatments. (Bayer Crop Science manufactures and sells these.) Percy cites British farmers who struggled to control flea beetle outbreaks in canola. This was spurred by a 2013 temporary European Union (EU) ban on neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments. (The EU is considering a total ban on these products.) Without neonicotinoid seed treatments, those farmers were left with ineffective pyrethroid insecticides

“So, they have to weigh pyrethroids that don’t work vs. using a single (neonicotinoid) seed treatment (that works),” says Percy. “This is a serious situation.” Percy says Bayer is working on alternatives, but none now appear as effective as neonicotinoid seed treatments. “We maintain those neonics are essential tools,” he says. “These are not the actives (ingredients) you can easily replace. There is not a 1:1 replacement for these kinds of products.”

Even so, Percy is optimistic neonicotinoid seed treatments will remain available for use in the U.S., given proper stewardship.

2. There’s some exciting technology coming down the pike.

Percy says Bayer’s relationship with a Boston firm named Ginkgo Bioworks can help plants better use nitrogen.

A second technology on the horizon is techniques like gene editing. “That has so much potential,” says Percy. “We will see the first products from that coming on market in the next two years.”

These technologies are hitting a market made up of cash-strapped farmers due to low commodity prices. Bear in mind, though, that agriculture consists of highs and lows over the long term. “Some of these products will not hit the market until 2025. Between now and then, there will be lots of up and downs,” he says. Developing such products now will ensure they will be ready for farmers when they need them.

3. There will be a new corn and soybean herbicide site of action developed – someday. Each year, agricultural chemical companies tout “new” herbicides. In reality, they’re premixes of existing sites of action.

Percy says searching for a new herbicide site of action is important, given how herbicide-resistant weeds have developed. New tools will help, he adds. Typically, a chemical approach has been used to search for new herbicides. This consists of testing vast number of compounds chemically.

“Now, we can combine chemistry with biology much earlier on,” he says. Scientists can now better study how chemistry impacts plant cells and plant genes and metabolites. “We could not have done that five years ago,” he says. “Hopefully, with these new approaches, it will give us a better chance for finding something novel.”

4. We’ll be in a good economic period again in agriculture.

Of course, no one knows for sure. But Liam Condon, Bayer Crop Science president, says Bayer believes there will be a slow return to growth in 2018.

One indicator is crop-protection sales. Data compiled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research estimates show that in the past 15 years, there has never been more than two years of a negative decline, notes Condon. Since negative declines have occurred in 2015 and 2016, odds based on the last 15 years indicate crop-protection sales could be flatter or higher. That, in turn, may be favorable for crop prices, if farmers are willing to spend more on crop-protection projects.

“Another way of looking at it is the global grain stocks-to-use ratio,” says Condon. “Over 30 years, we see ups and down.” A high stocks-to-use ratio tends to translate into low commodity prices, he says. Over the least three years, it has been on the high end, although it was declining heading into 2016-2017, according to USDA.

Meanwhile, for the first time since time since 2012, USDA has forecast higher farmer income than the previous year.

“The level is still lower than it was in 2012, but farmer net income is expected to grow from 2016 to 2017,” says Condon.

5. Bayer Crop Science is taking climate change seriously.

“Whether you call it weather or climate change, part of our approach with our breeding activities is to make sure we have the right varieties in right geographies as things develop from a climate perspective,” says Percy.

In grape production, for example, the impacts of climate change are apparent. “We are seeing the effects of climate in sensitive vineyards,” he says. “So, we are helping them (grape growers) develop products that can help them deal with environmental stressors more efficiently. These (stressors) could be lack of water or salinity in the soil.”

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