Industry Giant Shares Goals for Ag

November 1, 2018 11:44 AM
Bayer says it wants to generate innovation faster to increase farmer success in the field

The world got one of its first public images of the biggest ag company on the globe in September as leadership from Bayer and former Monsanto employees spoke to a roomful of journalists in Germany at the newly minted Bayer AG Future of Farming Dialogue for 2018. Liam Condon, president of Bayer Crop Science, and Bob Reiter, head of research and development, laid out plans for the new company’s direction.

“We brought Bayer and Monsanto together because we believe ensuring food security in a sustainable manner is a massive challenge that requires a complete step up in agriculture,” Condon says. “It’s literally a transformation of agriculture that we have set out for ourselves.”

Those are lofty goals from a company expecting to spend upward of $2.3 billion dollars on research and development annually.

“We have 8,000 scientists in the labs and in the fields,” Condon touts. “This is a phenomenal number who are working on creating more innovation [and] faster every day.”

Reiter, a former Monsanto executive, is overseeing that mission. “As I began to visit our research teams around the world the first question I get asked is, ‘who can I call,’” he says. “So, the most important job I think I have over the next six months is how to get the [scientists] connected.”

The new Bayer leadership team outlined goals built on combining Monsanto’s seed and plant breeding strength with Bayer’s crop protection portfolio. The intent is to cut in half the time it takes to deliver new innovative products. Rather than a 20-year-long slog, the pipeline process would take 10 years or less.

“We want to generate more innovation faster ... and make sure it’s innovation that really helps our growers in the field,” Condon says.

One piece of that puzzle lies in the data both companies bring to the business. Monsanto and its subsidiary Climate Corp tout data around major row crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton. Bayer brings its own data set and a global connection to cereal grains from its European Union roots.

Michael Stern, the new head of digital farming for the company, says, “I think it’s going to drive the fundamental data that we have to help provide better information to growers in a much broader way.”

Stern and his counterpart Jim Swanson, chief information officer, both lay out a future where the company’s calculated 40 major decisions a farmer makes each season is guided by data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“Internally, we’re growing our data by 33% every year,” Stern says. “We [Climate] grew by 2 petabytes [1 million gigabytes] just last year alone.”

Now covering 60 million acres, FieldView by Climate Corp is on track to reach 80 or even 100 million acres by next year. New algorithms are helping the company pick variety winners for the farm with a product called the Seed Placement Advisor.
“With our first algorithm we were able to go ahead and pick the right hybrid to put in the field, and 80% of the time it saw a greater-than-6-bu. advantage versus the wrong hybrid placed in that field,” Swanson says.

The data is still coming in but he says, so far, they’re winning 100% of the time with a 14-bu.-per-acre advantage. Those are tangible results the company expects to only grow as the merger of data and information continues in the months ahead.

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