Sharing safety data and boosting interest in agriculture are ways Bayer is hoping to better engage with consumers
Although it is early days for the merged companies of Bayer and Monsanto, transparency is a key aspect of how the new company will operate.
Speaking at Bayer’s Future of Farming Dialogue held in Monheim, Germany, Liam Condon, president of its crop science division, said there was a sense that agriculture companies did not share data with the public, only with the regulatory authority.
“A lot of it is put online but can be hard to digest unless you’re an expert. We are making more of this data available so it is easily understood by consumers. It takes quite a lot of time and resources – we have 1000s of products so it will be a rolling programme.
“The vast majority of data relating to safety we can make available. We have a responsibility to grow more interest in agriculture. Not that long ago at least 50 per cent of the population was involved in agriculture with a strong connectivity. Today, on average, it is 2 per cent.”
While the company would continue to develop new products for Europe, it was taking longer and becoming more expensive to get them on to the market, said Mr Condon. “When we look at what we are going to invest in we have to take a longer lens on it. Sometimes simply the product market is too small.”
Mr Condon said he was praying it would not be a ‘hard Brexit’. “If there are additional tariffs it will impact on trade flows. A big loss will be the UK voice in Europe. It has always been a liberal market voice and had a positive influence on legislation which has been relatively scientifically focused. I hope the UK voice will still be heard.”
On gene editing, Mr Condon said there was a possibility that outside the EU, the UK could have the freedom to set its own regulatory rules. “It could take a stance on gene editing that was different from the EU. The UK could adopt an innovation-friendly policy and attract additional investment. Gene editing is going to be developed in the US anyway which will look for overseas markets.”
A new digital platform which aims to bring increased precision to crop production is now covering 24 million paid hectares across the US, Canada, Brazil and Europe. It is said to have become the most broadly connected platform in the agricultural industry and plans to expand into new global regions over the next few years.
Dr Bob Reiter, Bayer global head of R&D, crop science division said: “Growers face 40 decisions in every growing season, the most key being which crop they decide to grow. Up to now, most customers have made decisions individually and they are not data driven.”
The Climate FieldView platform works by integrating multiple levels of farming data – including geospatial imagery, sensor data, weather information, historical field performance and in-ground soil and water dynamics – to deliver specific insights and recommendations at the field and field zone level, according to The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Bayer.
Climate FieldView is not yet available in the UK.
A US-based company is looking at the potential of microbes as pesticides and has brought a biological fungicide to market.
Speaking at the Future of Farming Dialogue, Dr Brooke Bissinger, director of entomology at AgBiome said: “There are many more microbes than scientists thought there were and they can do more than we thought they could.”
The company is sequencing microbial genes and can look for genes similar to known insecticide genes, explained Dr Bissinger. “We can also screen whole microbes for activity against insect pests, fungi or nematodes which could be used as a product.”
AgBiome recently launched Howler, a fungicide first used on turf and ornamentals then fruits, berries and grapes. “The sheer volume we need to put out is a challenge. In future the belief is we will be able to find microbes we can produce easily which will bring the cost down,” said Dr Bissinger.