With more and more growers looking for help in delivering sustainable solutions to the supply chain, Bayer CropScience aims to be there with some answers.
With $6.5 billion earmarked for research and development between 2011 and 2016, Bayer CropScience is well positioned to aid growth of its newly acquired biological pest control portfolio, company officials say.
In August last year, Monheim, Germany-based Bayer CropScience completed its nearly $500 million purchase of U.S. biological pest control company AgraQuest. Bayer believes the so-called “biologics” market - also called biopesticides - will reach almost $4 billion by 2020, company officials have said.
Bayer CropScience said it plans to achieve $3.9 billion in its fruits and vegetables business by 2020, with the acquisition of AgraQuest upping that number further. At the time it was acquired, AgraQuest offered “green” biopesticides in more than 30 countries.
Bayer CropScience said it will further invest in the research and development site in Davis, Calif., with the aim to become a world class center for “green” product research, Bayer said. Additionally, Bayer said it was planning to expand to expand existing manufacturing operations of green products at Tlaxcala site in Mexico.
At Bayer’s annual press conference in September, Chief Executive Officer Sandra Peterson said the company’s $6.5 billion investment in research and development through 2016 will focus on cultivating a winning portfolio of agricultural products in the areas of seeds, chemicals and biologics.
Late in 2012, I had the chance to interview Marcus Meadows-Smith, Head of Biologics, Bayer CropScience, and former chief executive officer of AgraQuest. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Tom Karst: How has it been integrating with Bayer and expressing your vision for what the now combined company will do with its research efforts? Has it been about what you expected?
Marcus Meadows-Smith Marcus Meadows-Smith: Honestly it has been better than I expected. It has been a tremendously warm welcome from our new colleagues at Bayer, a really first rate research and development company. Our strategies dovetail so well together that we really feel a needed and welcome part of the team. So this strategy, building on us having an integrated offering to the grower around seeds, traits, chemistry and biologics in order to deliver the best possible efficacy, the best profitability, and with many of our products from the biologics side, offering a yield increase. It is really about delivering to the grower what he wants in many areas. I think the addition of biologics in addition to the chemistry of Bayer, it means (we) can be talking to growers around specific residue management issues, resistance management issues and some of the those specific benefits that the biologics products bring in addition to the great things already provided by the chemistry.
Tom Karst: You mentioned the importance of residue management. How can biopesticides, or biologics, assist growers in that respect?
Marcus Meadows-Smith: There are three main areas. One is that biologics can be just good products for efficacy. For fruits and vegetables, it is very much about residue management. For soybeans, corn and wheat, we have products more focused on yields, disease concerns and productivity increases.
For the fruit and vegetable growers, particularly when they have disease pressure in the growing season, using biologics to manage (pesticide) residue levels is a big advantage. Also the other advantage is for is for crops that are hand picked or when orders come in sporadically from the food chain, it can give flexibility in use, because biologics have shorter reentry intervals and short pre-harvest intervals. It allows the growers who get an order from Wal-Mart to spray in the morning and (the grower) can still go into the field in afternoon and harvest the crop in order to deliver the order. Having biologics in that tool kit is a great benefit to that grower.
Tom Karst: As you explain the terms of you have been using - biologics and biopesticides - what is the reaction of growers who don’t know their potential and aren’t familiar with your products?
Marcus Meadows-Smith: We are having to reeducate people on what our biologics are because I think there has been a historical perception of biologics and their historical performance. Historically they tended to be lower efficacy, tended to be poor quality formulations and were harder to use. The formulations we are coming out with today are really indistinguishable from their synthetic counterparts in terms of ease of use. So often times we are out often just talking to the grower about the brand name and what diseases it controls and what benefits it brings. I think the interesting part comes to them when they have a residue management issue or a resistance management issue that they want to overcome or when the growers are talking to the food chain and see that a lot of the food chain (is) focused on residues, and they also are focused corporate responsibility and sustainability. Our biologics are produced through a fermentation process, produced very much like you produce wine, beer or yogurts. (Biologics) are often viewed as something that would help the food chain meet sustainability targets.
Tom Karst: Now being a part of Bayer, what are challenges and the opportunities in building this market and creating more awareness of (biologics)?
Marcus Meadows-Smith: As AgraQuest we really struggled. Worldwide we had about 20 sales and marketing positions. Today at Bayer, we have 7,400. In the U.S., AgraQuest had a dozen sales people. With Bayer, we have 200 sales people. We have a lot more feet on the ground to take the story to the growers and tell them.
Tom Karst: How do you break down by commodity where new products from Bayer biologics are coming in the market?
Marcus Meadows-Smith: I think we are going to be used in different ways on fruits and vegetables, for residue management, resistance management, marketing fruit and profitability. In row crops, it will about yields.
The market drivers are strong from fruits and vegetables, but just because of the higher number of acres of (corn, soybeans and wheat), very rapidly our sales on row crops will exceed sales on fruits and vegetables.
We have started to work with a large number of players in the food value chain who are looking to have sustainability as a criteria. They like the fact our produce are produced like wine, beer or yogurt. They like the fact that it is not leaving a residue. We are starting to get our story out there.