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6 insights from a crop science executive
learned can apply on the farm
In the United States, Friedrich Berschauer could pass for
any veteran businessman. In Germany, though, his position as chairman of the
board of management of Bayer CropScience gave him high visibility in European
Differences exist between the corporate boardroom and
U.S. farms. Still, situations Berschauer faced during his career with Bayer
CropScience parallel some situations you encounter. Berschauer, who retired at
the end of September, shared some career insights with U.S. media at Bayer
CropScience’s annual press conference in Monheim, Germany, last September
Corporate executives have 20/20 hindsight, too.
Ever pass on buying land that at the time seemed too
high-priced, but 10 years later proved to have been an excellent decision?
Well, this mimics Berschauer’s and Bayer’s initial decision
to stay on the sidelines while competing chemical companies bought seed companies
and launched traits in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s.
“From today’s perspective, probably Bayer should have
entered this segment earlier,” says Berschauer. During the 1990s, he served on
the management team of the former Bayer crop protection organization.
“At that time, I was not convinced we should enter seed and
traits,” he says. “Today, I have a different opinion. But, that’s life. We
should not forget that some of our competitors entering this segment had to pay
a high price (for seed companies). They also had significant challenges. It was
not an easy run.
“So, yes, from today’s perspective, maybe we should have
started earlier,” he says. “We are catching up, we are on the right track and
we have a clear strategy.”
* Plan for
Farms that successfully transfer onto the next generation
have a succession plan. That’s also the case with Bayer CropScience. Berschauer
is currently working on a transition with Sandra Peterson, the first U.S.
native tapped to head this Germany-based company. She assumed the head post Berschauer now holds last October.
“I’m replaceable,” he says. “She
will do some things differently, and that’s OK.”
* Go with the flow.
Ever get your dander up about if global warming and climate change is really
happening or what’s causing it? Berschauer believes climate change is occurring
and has steered Bayer to use technologies to develop products that will fare
well under it.
started, production of maize (corn) in Germany was zero,” he says. “We didn’t
have any European varieties. But due to new varieties and modern breeding,
today, corn for feed is key.
“In Germany, soybean production is still difficult,” he
adds. “But maybe in 20 years time, this may change due to climate change and
new varieties being made available. There can be new opportunities. Things can
* Learn from plans
That was the case in Europe when genetically modified grains
ran into a buzz saw of consumer resistance.
“There was a huge mistake in Europe in terms of lobbying
activities,” says Berschauer. “Hopefully, industry is learning, but there was
significant damage. If you talk in Europe about biotechnology, modification of
genes and so on, people on the street have fear, like something is very strange.”
Changing European minds will have much to do with education
about genetically modified gains. “Our industry has a huge responsibility to
tell the truth and stick to science,” he says.
Over time, Berschauer expects Europeans to accept
genetically modified technology. “It don’t think it will be in the next two the
three years, but not later than 15 to 20 years,” he says.
strive to improve.
When Berschauer started his career several decades ago with
Bayer, it was easier to bring new crop protection products to market.
“The technology standards of products already on the market
is really high,” he says. “It is more difficult to be innovative today.
On the other side, though, today’s tools used to bring new
products to market are better than in the past.
It’s important to keep using these tools to bring new
products to market, he says. That’s because over time, pests and disease can
build resistance to existing compounds, making new ones necessary.
“We need to
continue to be innovative, to find new modes of action,” Berschauer says.
some time to smell the roses
Berschauer has enjoyed his career. Still, there’s been a
“I spent a lot of time traveling in conferences, hotels
around the globe, but have seen almost nothing,” he says. “I have missed a lot of things in my
life, not enough time for my wife and children. Now I have three grandchildren.
So now, I will take care of family.”