Bayer is driving ahead with an array of investments designed to reckon with coming environmental, economic, and social issues in crop production.
Already spending approximately two billion Euros each year on agricultural science initiatives, the company is further emphasizing its investments in expectation of massive growth in several key areas – plant breeding, biotechnology, chemistry, biological inputs, and data science.
Why it matters: Farmers are challenged by a lack of new modes of action to control resistant weeds and pests.
According to Bob Reiter, head of research and development for Bayer’s crop science division, continued investment in these areas will give their farm customers a greater ability to adapt to globe-spanning challenges.
In a recent media conference Reiter listed overarching global trends such as a growing population, changes in consumption patterns, and the need to use crops in more diverse ways – along with the likely impacts of climate change – as central reasons for the company’s focus on crop-specific innovation.
Soybeans were identified as a key area of interest, particularly with regards to weed and insect control. Along with soon-to-come varieties capable of tolerating multiple herbicide types, Reiter says five-way and six-way tolerant soybeans will be available by 2030. Similarly, mode of action upgrades for pest control are coming within the decade.
“We have developed an insect solution for a brand-new class of insects, which is sucking and piercing insects,” Reiter says, specifically referencing those problematic for cotton growers.
“The way they feed on the cotton plant required us to invest in a technology that allowed us to control the pest in a different way.”
In corn, efforts to control below-ground insects are being enhanced. Along with existing and expanding Bt technologies, for example, Bayer is incorporating RNA-interference technology as a mode of action against corn rootworm.
One of the most significant forthcoming products identified by Reiter, however, is short stature corn. Extending the dwarfing technology of the Green Revolution, these shorter varieties are intended to bring easier and more precise management with no reduction in yield potential, as well as improved root development and standability.
“There are some things happening below the ground in terms of helping the crop be a better root producer, which we think will have benefits in terms of potential drought tolerance, and also may have some benefits in terms of nutrition,” he says.
The technology could also help with carbon sequestration.
Initiatives in precision genetics also were identified. Reiter described the concept as a method of leveraging artificial intelligence to design crops for optimal performance in specific locations and environmental situations. This will be used hand-in-hand with gene editing, and focus largely on increasing productivity and disease resilience.
Similar themes apply to crop protection innovation. The company is in the midst of developing and commercializing 10 brand-new pesticide modes of action, as well as biological products.
Reiter says these actives – the first novel products in decades in some cases – are designed to help growers get ahead of resistance issues, meet sustainability requirements, and get ahead of “ever-increasing regulatory standards.”
Data science was cited as valuable in the development of products that actually work in the field. Reiter says information contributed by users to Climate FieldView, the company’s agronomic and farm management software, helps his colleagues better align their research and development with producer needs. In addition, the company could make recommendations to individual growers.
“Each individual field will respond different to the hybrids or varieties that should be grown on that field,” says Reiter, using variety selection to illustrate the point.
“By leveraging customer data, we could do a much better job of providing recommendations to growers that allow those growers to get the best seed choice, at the best planting density, onto that field and increase their yield.”