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Despite Downturn, R&D Money Is Flowing Into Agriculture

“A lot of people are betting on agriculture right now,” says Bayer’s Adrian Percy.

Farming might seem bleak right now, given the downturn in commodity prices the last few years. That’s not deterring outside money coming into agriculture, though, says Adrian Percy, who heads crop research and development for Bayer Crop Science.

 “Companies like IBM and Google are entering the ag space, along with venture capital firms investing in start-up companies,” he says. “Ideas are coming in from other industries, like health care. A lot of biotech advances are finding their way into agriculture.”

Traditionally, agriculture has had not as much money devoted to research and development as other industries. “What’s exciting now is the investment going on in agriculture,” he says. “It started in 2013 and 2014, and the money invested over the past few years will pay dividends in the next few years.”

Percy and others spoke at the Bayer’s AgVocacy Forum, held prior to this year’s Commodity Classic in Anaheim, California. Other developments Bayer see on the horizon include the following. 

• Gene editing using tools like CRISPR-Cas9 will add attributes into crops that could only have been imagined just a few years ago, says Percy. And it’s just not about properties that protect crops against insects and diseases. It’s also about ones that will appeal to consumers, such as improving food taste and texture, changing the color of vegetables, and developing allergen-free foods. 

• Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto keeps getting pushed back. Initially slated to close at the start of 2017, the anticipated date was pushed back to late January 2018 last September. Projections for closing still are for early 2018, says Prercy. “It’s making tremendous progress,” he says. In recent months, regulators have given approval in several countries, the most recent being Brazil.

Percy says Bayer remains bullish on the acquisition. “The approaches Bayer and Monsanto have had are very complementary,” he says. “Bayer is a strong player in the crop-protection market, biologicals, and seeds in certain crops. Monsanto is strong in seeds across different crop types.”

Bayer officials say the acquisition will broaden the economies of scale it takes to bring new products to market. “From the day one of our scientists says, ‘We have a new one, this will be cool,’ it can take 10 to 12 years to bring it to market,” says Rob Schrick, strategic business lead for broadacre crops for Bayer Crop Science. “When we think about the risk our industry takes when making that investment, we have to have the scale to withstand that kind of risk.” 

• Bayer is getting into the weed-sensor business. Last year, Bayer and Bosch signed an agreement to develop Smart Spraying technology. Using camera sensors, the new technology can target chemical applications specifically to weeds. Percy notes this technology is becoming more mainstream. “This is a win-win for the grower, but also for the environment,” he says. 

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