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Inside Bayer’s record-breaking crop-science innovations

It might be surprising to learn that a paddock in Timaru currently holds a world record for its barley crop. Digging a bit deeper finds one of the key companies behind the success is Bayer, New Zealand’s leading crop science company.

Harvesting a crop yield of 13.8 tonnes per hectare on January 23 last year gave farmer Warren Darling the record, with the new record officially ratified by the Guinness World Records on April 15. The previous record holder, a Scottish grower, had a yield of 12.2 tonnes per hectare.

Instrumental in Darling’s success were Bayer CropScience’s crop protection products, providing seed treatment, weed, and disease control. The farmer used several Bayer products on his field, including the newly-launched fungicide Aviator Xpro, along with Poncho, Raxil, Firebird, and Mogul.

It’s always a race to get a new product to market, but we are in the fortunate position of having that global pipeline.  It’s about being number one in the market.

The record success is an example of what Bayer is all about – innovation and collaboration. Its mission is “Science for a better life”, a statement made stronger by the company’s repositioning as a pure life sciences company.

From January 2016, Bayer’s business will be made up of three divisions: pharmaceuticals, consumer health, and crop science.

Image: Holger Detje, managing director and country manager for crop science at Bayer New Zealand

Addressing mega trends and providing solutions for the global good provides the foundation on which Bayer builds its innovative work, says Holger Detje, managing director and country manager for crop science at Bayer New Zealand.

“The world has a growing population. We need to be able to feed people, and as people are getting older and living longer there are more health issues to cure. The diet of people in developing countries is also changing, with people wanting to eat more meat, which also results in the need to produce greater quantities of grain.

“At the same time, there is the global urban sprawl, with farmers having to produce more crops on a reduced area, both here in New Zealand and worldwide.”

Bayer works with New Zealand farmers, seed companies, distributors and the wider agricultural industry to ensure crops are high yield and high quality, Detje says.

Protecting the seeds as they germinate is one important part of the business, and Bayer has developed a number of SeedGrowth treatments, which give the emerging seeds the best chance against pests and disease.

Take a maize crop, for example. In one maize field there are often 60,000 plants, most likely along with several hundred different kinds of weed seeds. Many seed species can survive for 40 years in the soil, and when the conditions are right, they germinate, competing with the maize for water, nutrients, and light, and potentially introducing disease.

Bayer’s innovative SeedGrowth treatment surrounds the seeds with a coating that contains a fungicide, insecticide, or a combination of both to provide early protection for the seed, creating a foundation for healthy, high-yield crops.

Another example of Bayer’s work involves solving the problem of an invasion of yellow bristle grass into the pastures of Taranaki over the past five years. The weed can spread rapidly, causing poor pasture quality, cows do not willingly eat it, and when they do, the grass can cause lesions and ulcers. 

“We knew from our global expertise that we could potentially have a product that would control it,” says Detje. “So, in collaboration with a local research organisation, we conducted some trials.

Image: Record-winning farmer Warren Darling (middle), with Bayer New Zealand territory manager David Weith (left), and MD Holger Detje (right).

We found that a product we have registered for other weeds, Puma S, had a very positive effect on the yellow bristle grass. It took two and a half years to register the label for the grass, but we had found a solution for our customers.”

With Bayer worldwide aligning its focus on the pure life sciences, synergies are becoming evident across the human health, animal health and crop health areas, Detje says, meaning the work of the New Zealand scientists is being bolstered by research being done by other teams.

That’s no small resource. For example, Bayer’s global pharmaceuticals division has 3.5 million different molecules ready for research, and the CropScience division in Monheim in Germany has a substance library with more than 2.5 million molecules.

“Our global researchers will be able to work more closely, and share molecules they find more easily. A human cell is not too dissimilar to an animal cell; plant cells also follow a similar structure. So if we find a molecule that has a positive effect on human health, chances are it will have a positive effect on animal health, and potentially even on plants,”
Detje says.

“We are part of a global organisation and that assists us with bringing new products to the market. We have other markets in the world that are similar to New Zealand in terms of soil, climate, diseases, pests, and the weeds that compete with crops, so we benefit from the research that is done in Germany and other parts of the world.”

Detje says sharing global expertise also enables Bayer to address problems quickly, reducing the time a solution takes to get to market. If a farmer in New Zealand has an issue, Bayer can start looking at its global banks of compounds immediately to find something that may be useful against a pest, weed or disease.

When a successful compound is found, the end product is developed and tested, arriving in New Zealand ready for local field trials prior to compiling a data package, registration, and finally, market.

“It’s always a race to get a new product to market, but we are in the fortunate position of having that global pipeline,” Detje says.

It’s about market leadership, he says.

“There are only two things that will get us there. Our relationship with our customers and the wider market, and innovation. It’s as simple as that.” ?

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