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Bayer CropScience Global COO Talks Biotech, Sustainability, Innovation

20 September 2011

For a company based in Germany - the heart of the anti-GMO movement - Bayer Crop Science shows no signs of backing away from biotechnology, rather they are making significant strides in biotech innovation, writes Sarah Mikesell, senior editor.

Lykele van der Broek, Global Chief Operating Officer of Bayer CropScience

"Bayer CropScience is convinced of the benefits of biotechnology, otherwise we wouldn't invest so much in it," said Lykele van der Broek, Global Chief Operating Officer of Bayer CropScience. "We're not just involved in herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, but for the future, we are looking at stress tolerance, heat tolerance, nutrition deficiency and more."

In the beginning, Europe said that the US was a bit of an island with its push for biotech advancements, but it's actually shifted to the other way around now, Van der Broek said. Europe is essentially the island now.

"I find it difficult to understand that a proven technology, with all of the regulatory scrutiny in place before products get approved on the market and that has demonstrated both its benefits and its safety, is not accepted for cultivation in Europe," he said.

When Bayer puts traits on the market in other parts of the world, they have import acceptance and registrations for import in Europe to allow free trade of these products.

"If I were a European grower, I would be upset that I cannot use this technology that all the growers around the world can, because the products from around the globe are imported and consumed in Europe," Van der Broek said. "I hope it's only a matter of time before Europe sees the light; I have difficulty understanding their position."

Given the political landscape in the European Union, he believes it will be a very slow process to get everyone to agree to new regulations that would allow these products in the market.

"I'm optimistic, but I'm also aware that it will take time, patience and continuous efforts, while also demonstrating the sound science and benefits of biotech," he said.

Global Focus for Food Security

With the growing demand for food, feed, fiber, and renewable resources and with the global population increasing, Bayer recognizes the increasing demand for all crops to produce more.

The land space simply isn't available to produce more for the future. 'More' can only come from productivity gains, and productivity gains can only come from innovation, which applies to all of us globally, Van der Broek said.

"It's going to be all hands on deck for every country, because I don't think world food security will depend on only two or three countries," Van der Broek said. "Smaller countries and local situations will need productivity increases too."

He said there are a few countries, like the US, Brazil and Argentina, who will contribute more to the adoption of innovation and also to productivity increases than other countries.

"Some of the larger growth countries, from a population point of view, with their local needs, will need to boost productivity," he said. "Countries like China and India are important, but all countries will need to contribute to ensuring we have enough to feed the world."

Sustainability Initiatives

Bayer isn't a company that says they "do" sustainability; they have consistently demonstrated "best in class" sustainability in their sector as shown by their renewed inclusion in both the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Europe Index (DJSI Europe).

"We've done a lot on stewardship and sustainability, probably without always using those words, but now it's more pronounced as a relevant topic in agriculture," he noted.

"Sustainability is also important from a point of view that it's not enough to feed the world now, but also in a responsible manner, 10, 20, and 50 years from now."

Sustainability is not a specific business model for Bayer, he said.

"It's an integral part of everything we do - whether it's low-dose rates, no-till agriculture, food chain partnerships or weed management to prevent resistance against herbicides," he said. "From a grower perspective, they've always been aware of sustainability. They grew up on the farm that they now manage, and that their kids will likely grow up to someday manage. Growers understand it."

A new 60,000 sq. ft. greenhouse under construction at Bayer's US headquarters in North Carolina. The facility is expected to be finished in spring 2012 and will house corn and soybean bioscience research.

R&D at Bayer CropScience

The "R", or research, meaning the chemistry and the discovery of new molecules and new traits, is centralized. But as soon as the discovery moves from "R" into "D", or development, that is completed under local or regional conditions.

"Because what may work in one place, may work differently in another place, so we want to ensure that what we develop locally is actually appreciated locally," Van der Broek said.

In areas like Africa, conditions at the local level are especially important.

"We do local trials to see that our products suit the particular farm practice, climate, disease pressure there," he commented. "Africa is facing some other challenges, such as sufficient water supply. We are hopeful that some of the technologies in development, whether it's stress tolerance or heat tolerance, will benefit African agriculture as well."

While the industry is focused on seed and traits technology, Van der Broek emphasized that Bayer is not neglecting crop protection chemicals.

"We still have one of the largest R&D budgets in the industry for crop protection chemicals," he said. "And no matter how good seeds and traits will be, I cannot imagine agriculture without chemical crop protection."

Jaco Van Der Westhuizen explains how the On Demand System works to attendees at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois.

He said some crop protection technology will have different elements to it, like protecting against stress or creating safer applications. An example is Bayer's revolutionary On Demand system - the first and only fully-automated seed treatment system developed to make treating seeds easier, more accurate and more efficient. The system is designed with product stewardship and convenience in mind, offering consistent applications resulting in improved seed integrity and accountability.

"With On Demand, application technology and product stewardship are important. It's not just a better-working active ingredient, it's actually a whole set of innovation," he said. "While we're increasing our investments in seeds and traits, we will certainly not be neglecting crop protection. We're convinced that the three - chemicals, seeds and traits - will go hand-in-hand for better productivity and for farmers' choices on which options suit their local circumstances."

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