Staking a claim on the future of food
LOOKING AHEAD: Liam Condon, president, Bayer Crop Science, left, and Bob Reiter, global head of research and development, Bayer Crop Science, were keynote speakers at the company’s Future Farming event in Germany. They looked ahead at what’s possible for the newly combined company.

Staking a claim on the future of food

Bayer management outlines the course of action for the newly combined business

With the final ink barely dry on the papers that finalized the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer, the new management took on the Future of Farming Dialogue sponsored by Bayer in Germany. Liam Condon, president, Bayer Crop Science division, and Bob Reiter, global head of research and development, Bayer Crop Science, shared the future vision for the new company detailing its direction.

Condon outlined the challenges facing agriculture, and it starts with food security, which he acknowledged has no easy solutions. “It’s easy to provide black and white simplistic answers to complex questions but creating food security in a sustainable manner requires a holistic approach,” he told the audience. “Food is one of the most culturally sensitive topics in the world.”

Talking about sustainability and food security for Bayer also means offering solutions in the context that Bayer is a company, “It’s a business, not an NGO, not a not-for-profit,” Condon added. “This is a business that firmly believes it’s a better business by doing good in society.”

Condon noted that acquisition of Monsanto creates an opportunity for a transformation for agriculture setting out ways to use science for a better life, for crop science, for farmers, for consumers and the planet, he said. “That’s what the new company is all about.”

Running the numbers of the new company, Condon noted there are 35,000 employees, 8,000 scientists in the lab and in the field, at work for the company. While final numbers of market share, sales and other key factors haven’t been locked down since the acquisition is still coming into focus, Condon laid claim to being No. 1 in corn and soybean seed; No. 1 in fruit and vegetable crops; No. 1 in cereals; and he’s taking out the top position in digital farming with The Climate Corporation.

“Across the board we have an extremely strong starting position, but it doesn’t make sense to say ‘Mission Accomplished’ we are aiming to set entirely new standards in the market in three areas,” he said. The areas are innovation, sustainability and digital transformation.

In the overlap of the three disciplines, Condon noted the creation of tailored solutions to be available for farmers around the world. “Those are the defining pillars of our strategy going forward, and we’ve only been together for three weeks, this is not the shiny, polished presentation of what the new company stands for, but it is what this company is going to stand for and what we’re aiming for,” Condon said.

The how of a strategy

That listed set of pillars – innovation, sustainability and digital transformation – all sound good but how will Bayer achieve those goals? “We know what we’re going to do, but how we’re going to do it and how as a company we want to be perceived matters,” he said.

Condon pointed to three areas of the ‘how’ including working responsibly to create a dialogue with society and work as a company to do the right thing.

The second area is to be collaborative, which Condon explained is having the company in a listening mode to learn what customers want and he says the company plans to “walk the talk” of collaboration.

Finally, Bayer will be transparent, working to make company data more available to consumers and others. While he said the company won’t release intellectual property or process information, there’s no reason that all safety data can’t be released, he said. And that’s true for glyphosate, a product that’s gotten its share of unwanted attention recently with the California court loss.

In a discussion later in the day, Condon noted that the “gift” of the glyphosate lawsuit was like that “Christmas sweater you get that you don’t want to wear,” he smiled. “That’s not the final decision and we will deal with it and move on.”

Condon explained that the new business will bring an “entirely new level of innovation, sustainability and digital transformation” to agriculture. “I think we’re a company that needs to think in the long term. It takes 10 years to develop a new product,” he said. “Farmers think in terms of generations. We have to think long term and address the huge societal challenge [ahead].”

Research leader outlines goals

Reiter took a deeper look at the role of development for the company in the future. Adding to Condon’s comments regarding work in seeds and traits, crop protection and digital data science, he noted that “every one of our customers is unique and we can tailor solutions to help each individual customer.”

Sharing how far tech has come, Reiter pointed to the DNA chip, which represents information from 14 acres of field research that can be used to make decisions in the breeding program. “Our breeding organization has made thousands of decisions using those chips,” he said. “We conduct our entire first year of testing in the laboratory. That was unfathomable 20 years ago. We’ve gained tremendous ability in molecular biology.”

But what does bringing Bayer and Monsanto really do? He points to a key advantage as the new company moves forward with product development: the move from sequential to parallel product development. With Bayer’s extensive crop protection product portfolio, Reiter explains it would be possible to develop a crop that’s tolerant to a herbicide at the same time the new herbicide is going through development. The result could shave years off bringing out a new herbicide tolerance system.

These kinds of advantages can add up on the bottom line pretty quickly. During a post presentation conversation, Reiter was asked what he’s most enthused about with the combination. “Personally, our research and development people are so excited to collaborate together,” he said. “At Monsanto we had a few chemists, at Bayer they had a few biologists. Together we have thousands of scientists in these two disciplines for the future.”

He noted that on plant visits soon after the acquisition was final, he came across several examples of people working on one area on the biological side that wanted to know which Bayer chemist to reach out to; and on the Bayer side there were chemists who wanted to know whom to call for a specific project at the legacy Monsanto office.

Combining two companies isn’t easy. There are thousands of details to work out, culture changes to make and even figuring out capabilities for staff members in different divisions can be time consuming. But Condon and Reiter shared the common theme of being ready to move forward and get the work done. It’s an important time in agricultural history, and it bears watching.

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