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Bayer branches out

Bayer CropScience historically has been a big player in the crop protection business. Now, it's planning to build on that base by ramping up seeds and traits business.

That was the word from the firm's top executives at Bayer's annual international press conference in Monheim, Germany.

In the next 10 years, Bayer expects moderate growth of about 1% to 2% annually on average in the conventional crop protection market. In comparison, Bayer expects its seeds and traits business to expand by an average of 6% or so annually though 2025, says Joachim Schneider, who heads the BioScience division for Bayer CropScience.

Bayer is pumping lots of money into research and development, facilities and acquisitions. "Our investment budget is equivalent to 27% of sales, making it one of the most generous in the global agricultural industry," says Schneider.

One Bayer trait that's familiar to you is the LibertyLink technology that Bayer first marketed in corn and did so in soybeans for the first time this year. As part of the expansion, Bayer will key in on traits for:

  • Herbicide tolerance
  • Stress tolerance
  • Insect and plant disease resistance

"In soybeans and corn, we are seeking to reposition ourselves in the market with our in-house technologies and the plant traits we have developed ourselves," says Friedrich Berschauer, chairman of the board of management of Bayer CropScience. Bayer plans to outlicense its own plant traits to other companies.

So what's hot? If you’re struggling with glyphosate-resistant or glyphosate-tolerant weeds in soybeans, you'll be getting another option sometime in the next decade. An HPPD inhibitor-tolerant trait will enable you to use to HPPD inhibitor products like Balance that you may now use in corn in soybeans.

To get these traits into the loop, Bayer has and will form licensing agreements with seed companies. This enables them to incorporate these technologies into crops Bayer does not market.

"The growing resistance manifested by (glyphosate resistance) weeds, for example, is making our LibertyLink herbicide technology an increasingly attractive proposition for other seed providers," says Schneider. In the U.S., over 120 seed companies are licensed to include the LibertyLink technology in their soybeans.

Included in these agreements was a June 2009 major licensing agreement with DuPont/Pioneer for corn and soybeans, and one in June 2009 with Monsanto for LibertyLink technology for oilseeds.

One thing you won't likely see is Bayer buying a seed company to include its crop traits.

"Monsanto is impossible to finance," says Berschauer. "A big acquisition of DuPont cannot be financed." Instead, he says Bayer plans to stick with strategies that include trait licensing agreements with seed companies.

However, Bayer has turned to acquisitions to ramp up its traits business, such as its planned purchase of Athenix, a North Carolina-based biotech company.

"Athenix has an extensive research pipeline, numerous traits for corn and soybeans, and an extensive gene library," says Schneider. "Together, we are planning to create a powerful research and development platform in North America, which is currently the major market for plant biotechnology."

The expansion in seeds and traits won't come at the expense of Bayer's crop protection business, says Schnieder. "On the contrary, the future challenges facing agriculture can only be overcome by combining all the available technologies," he says.

Bayer CropScience historically has been a big player in the crop protection business. Now, it's planning to build on that base by ramping up seeds and traits business.

Bayer continues this year's trend of seed and ag chemical firms getting into the wheat breeding business.

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