Bayer is investing $6 billion in new weed control strategies and pledging to reduce environmental impact by 30 percent globally over the next decade to improve transparency, sustainability and engagement.
The effort reflects Bayer’s heightened responsibility and potential as a new leader in agriculture as the anniversary of the Monsanto acquisition nears this summer.
“We’re making good progress on integrating the acquired agriculture business and are now starting to implement a series of measures to drive transparency and sustainability across our business,” Werner Baumann, Chairman of the Board of Management of Bayer AG said in a press release Friday.
These measures address questions and concerns Bayer has heard about its role in agriculture in the year following its acquisition of Monsanto. “We will continue to advance our standard, driven by our commitment to a better life for this generation and generations to come,” Baumann said.
Innovation is at the heart of Bayer’s agricultural portfolio. With its solutions, the company will reduce the environmental impact by 30 percent by 2030. Bayer aims to achieve this by developing new technologies, including digital tools, products with smaller molecules and through plant breeding.
“U.S. farmers are on the cutting edge of technology,” said Darren Wallis, vice president, communications, Bayer Crop Science, North America, in a follow-up interview. “We will absolutely keep working to provide more innovation faster to U.S. growers to make them more profitable and more sustainable,” Wallis said.
He said the 30 percent global environmental impact reduction goal may be greater in parts of the world that are less technologically advanced than U.S. agriculture.
“Adopting hybrids, for example, would be extremely valuable in some countries. U.S. farmers have used hybrids for many years.”
Scaling down crop protection volumes will help to restore and retain biodiversity, combat climate change, and make the most efficient use of natural resources, the release states.
According to Bayer’s statement released today: “Bayer will measure progress by comparing the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) against the current market standards. The EIQ was established in the 1990s by Cornell University (U.S.) and relates volume to toxicity and therefore represents a more meaningful measure system than volume only.
“Bayer will seek to continuously improve the EIQ of its crop solutions by investing in world-class innovation for seeds and traits, digital farming, biological solutions and new low-residue and reduced rate application products. Furthermore, the company will invite global experts and stakeholders to participate in a Bayer Sustainability Council to bolster the company-wide efforts.”
Bayer will stand by glyphosate, which will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in Bayer’s portfolio, Wallis said. “We stand behind glyphosate and its safety profile,” he added. “It remains an incredibly valuable tool, along with the Xtend system, and will be for the foreseeable future.
But the release stated that the company is committed to offering more choices for growers and will invest approximately $6 billion (5 billion euros) in additional methods to combat weeds over the next decade.
“We are also investing in new modes of action that will bring more value and more choices for growers.”
The statement noted that the R&D investment will go towards improving understanding of resistance mechanisms, discovering and developing new modes of actions, further developing tailored Integrated Weed Management solutions and developing more precise recommendations through digital farming tools.
In addition, partnerships with weed scientists around the world will be enhanced to help develop customized solutions for farmers at the local level.
Transparency is Bayer’s foundation, the release stated. In 2017, Bayer began releasing all of its safety-related Crop Science studies online for anyone to see. Since then, it has released hundreds of studies for nearly 30 compounds, including all 107 company-owned glyphosate studies. Going forward, the company will pilot a program inviting scientists, journalists and NGO representatives to participate through its scientific preparation for the upcoming EU glyphosate re-registration process, which will start later this year.
On top of that, the company will apply consistent safety standards to its products—even when it means exceeding local regulations. Since 2012, Bayer has stopped selling all products that were considered acute toxicity class 1 by the World Health Organization, regardless of whether they were allowed in a particular market.
Bayer announced in Friday’s statement that it will only sell crop protection products in markets that meet both the safety standards of that local market and the safety standards of a majority of countries with well-developed programs to regulate crop protection products.
How does that affect U.S. product availability? Will U.S. producers lose products? “No. That’s the short answer,” Wallis said. He added that the toxicity protocol is “focused globally. We will sell in markets that meet safety standards, where they are adequately regulated, as in the US.”
In the coming months, Bayer will evolve its engagement policies that ground all of its interactions with scientists, journalists, regulators and the political sphere in transparency, integrity and respect.
Committed to Sustainability
Wallis added that Bayer takes pride in its “longstanding commitment to sustainability. As we approach the one-year anniversary that brought Bayer and Monsanto together, we continue to believe we can do more faster together than we could independently.”
He said Bayer is working closely with growers to provide innovation that increases sustainability and profitability. “We want growers to have choices and access to new technologies.”
He said the increased emphasis on transparency, sustainability and engagement is an important part of “us continuing a conversation with key societal audiences.”
Wallis said Bayer’s long-term goal does not supersede the commitment to providing needed assistance now. “Weather has been harsh this spring and times are tough. Our most important job now is working alongside growers to get a crop in the ground. We are focused on helping farmers now.
“But farmers are a resilient lot. Nothing is more important than them being successful.”