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The New Look of Bayer Crop Science

Digital agriculture is a large component of Bayer’s Strategy.

Bayer Crop Science no longer has LibertyLink technology or its Poncho/Votivo seed treatment. They now belong to BASF. Bayer sold these properties to BASF in order to help ensure that its purchase of Monsanto passed regulatory approval. 

In return, though, divesting these products enabled Bayer Crop Science to go big in digital agriculture with The Climate Corporation, which Monsanto bought in 2013.

Bayer Crop Science executives discussed this and other strategies and technologies at this month’s Bayer’s Future of Farming Dialogue in Monheim, Germany.

Vexing Variability

“I was talking to a Minnesota farmer about his seed purchases,” says Michael Stern, who heads Bayer’s digital farming division, which includes The Climate Corporation. “Instead, he talked about all the decisions he had to make for his farm. Each decision affected the output of his farm, each decision affected his family. He said, ‘I don’t know if I am making the right decision, but I have to make a decision.’ So, the promise of digital agriculture is using data and data science to help farmers make more informed decisions about how to manage their crops.”

Digital agriculture can help farmers manage one factor that’s always bedeviled them – field variability. “Every harvest when a grower gets in the combine, they can see variability in parts of a field, where some yield more than others,” says Stern. 

“We think this can be approached by solving a simple equation: Yield = Genetics × Environment. It’s a simple equation, but one that is much more complicated than that.

“Each year, the National Corn Growers Association holds a yield contest,” adds Stern. “Entrants can highly manage those entries and control those decisions. Last year, the national winner had around a 540-bushel-per-acre yield. But the national corn average on around 90 million acres is around 176 bushels per acre.”

The gap reflects variability, and one that Stern says Bayer can help farmers narrow. One tool they’re offering is Seed Advisor, a new seed selection tool.

Bayer’s New Executive Board

The former Monsanto came out pretty well in representation on the new executive board of Bayer Crop Science. Liam Condon, who was chief executive officer before Bayer bought Monsanto, remains the CEO. Several other former Monsanto executives, though, occupy the executive suite including:

  • Brett Begemann. He’s Bayer’s new chief operating officer. He held the same position at Monsanto.
  • Michael Stern. Before coming to Bayer, he headed The Climate Corporation at Monsanto. 
  • Bob Reiter. He will head research and development for Bayer. He was technology integration planning lead at Monsanto. 
  • James Swanson. He is the crop science chief information officer and head of IT/digital transformation. He served as chief information officer at Monsanto. 

Condon says the team is blending together well. “After I am in a room for an hour, I can’t tell who is Bayer and who is Monsanto,” he says.

Investing in Technologies

Bayer executives say the combined companies will be able to invest more in research and development. This will fit into Tom Adam’s prediction that there will be more innovation in crops over the next 30 years than in the last 10,000 years. He’s the chief executive officer of Pairwise, a firm that’s cooperating with Bayer Crop Science in a joint gene editing venture.

Microbial products will also be part of Bayer’s strategy. “Microbes can kill and attack pests killing crops,” says Brooke Bissinger, director of entomology for AgBiome. Microbes also have potential to complement tools like chemicals, which are encountering pest resistance these days, she adds.

Bayer has formed a joint venture with Gingko Bioworks called Joyn Bio that aims at improving nitrogen (N) fixation to reduce the amount of commercial N applications.

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