On its 148-acre campus in Monheim, Germany, Bayer CropScience’s research centers on insecticides, fungicides and improving crop protection products.
Do you know what you’ll plant on your farm in 10 years? It’s hard to believe, but ag research companies probably have a better idea than you do.
When you walk into the research facilities at Bayer CropScience’s headquarters in Monheim, Germany, the technology you have access to for your fields today seems likes ancient history. The scientists here are looking to the future and finding or creating the active ingredients you could be purchasing five, 10 or 20 years from now.
Leonardo Pitta, Bayer’s global development manager for insecticides, says it normally takes around 10 years from the time a chemistry is discovered to when it’s available for purchase.
“It is very difficult to get a new product to market, but not impossible,” he says. “It costs about 200 million euros [$261 million] to develop a new crop protection agent.”
Located in one of the state-of-the-art facilities on the Monheim campus, the largest agricultural research center in the world is a treasure chest of substances. High-tech robots are used to analyze and test up to 200,000 of these substances a day.
Back in the 1970s, for every 20,000 compounds researched, only one active ingredient made it to market. Today, 100,000 compounds must be tested to find one market-bound product.
These odds could make you think science is retracting instead of advancing, but that’s not really the case.
“We have to recognize that technical standards for products on the shelf are really high,” says Friedrich Berschauer, recently retired chairman of the board of management at Bayer CropScience. “So, logically, it became more and more difficult to find an improvement.”
In addition for looking for new active ingredients, Bayer continues research on current science to phase out older products with newer and better active ingredients.
Each product can be improved in its environmental impact, application rate, user friendliness and so on, Berschauer adds. “Nobody can say the present portfolio is perfect.”
Future chemistry. Berschauer says that if the whole industry discontinued agricultural research tomorrow, it wouldn’t be an issue for the next five to 10 years, because the products available today would still work.
“But in 10 or 15 years, we would have a huge problem because resistance would be there. Therefore, we need to have long-term thinking and responsibility and continually find new modes of action,” he says.
Rüdiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management, says Bayer is working on a couple of different areas of traits to meet grower demand. In the corn and soybean area, those traits include combating nematodes, insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
Bayer is also focusing research on cereal grains. “Around the world, some 134 million hectares [about 331 million acres] of land are now being cultivated with genetically modified seed,” Berschauer explains. “Genetic engineering is becoming increasingly established outside Europe, and small farmers in particular are achieving tremendous success.”
Why should the GMO technology stop short of wheat? Scheitza says plans are in the works to boost wheat yields with new varieties, some of which are genetically modified and some of which are not. He says Bayer is looking at stress tolerance and nutrient efficiency (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) traits. “In all that we are doing, we are looking at providing the world with enough food. Therefore, our priority is to create higher yields for the growers,” he says.
Bayer CropScience plans to release approximately 18 new products in the seeds and traits arena by 2016.