By Tim Linden
Supporting innovation in the fresh produce industry by sponsoring the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology is a natural for Bayer, which considers itself the leader in agricultural research and development with specialty crops its main focus.
Daniel Kurdys, Director of Horticulture & Seed Growth in North America for Bayer Crop Science, said the division invests €2 billion Euro annually in R&D with the main focus of developing innovations for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. He told WG&S that these are particularly fruitful times as the division has multiple projects near fruition. In fact, he said there are a dozen projects on various agro-chemicals nearing completion. “Over the next six years, we expect to release many new formulations and new active ingredients,” he said, noting these are exciting times for the agri-chemical giant.
Kurdys added that these new active ingredients are being developed with a keen eye toward being environmentally friendly “safe for plants and the planet,” and include work with biologicals.
For example, he said one new innovative product that has recently been released is a fungicide that helps control nematode problems for almond growers. Kurdys said an exciting aspect of this product is that it is a collaboration between Bayer Crop Science and Netafim, an innovator, manufacturer, supplier of irrigation products and solutions. Kurdys said this new formulation has been developed to be delivered through the Netafim system offering the added value of reducing water use while also reducing nematode pressure in almond groves.
Kurdys said this collaboration is a great example of Bayer’s commitment to collaboration to better solve the needs of the fruit and vegetable sector and to work on practical solutions. He reiterated that the fruit and vegetable sector is vitally important to Bayer as it is second only to corn in terms of revenue generated by the company’s products. “The vegetable space is going to continue to be very significant for us,” he said, adding that there are many crops in the category for which Bayer products offer solutions for pressing needs.
But while the Bayer Crop Science executive did express optimism that many new crop protection tools will be introduced over the next decade, he did not downplay the regulatory hurdles that continue to be a challenge. “It takes about 11 years and close to $300 million to bring a new product to market,” he said, adding that there is no time-saving breakthrough on the horizon. In fact, Kurdys said the challenges continue to increase including international trade restrictions sometimes placed on products because of production factors.
Kurdys said Europe is out in front in this movement and he sees California looking to Europe as it ponders increased regulations. “The trade piece is new,” he said, discussing this newest hurdle to jump in the crop protection registration process.
The Bayer executive is not optimistic that worldwide crop protection regulation harmonization will become a reality, but he wistfully thinks it should. “It’s all about feeding the world,” he said of the effort to improve the crop protection tools that farmers have at their disposal.
But he is optimistic about the supply side of that equation. “The innovation engine has gotten stronger. A lot of active ingredients have been lost over the years, but as I said there are a number of new active ingredients on the horizon. And our new launches will have better efficacy.”
Circling back to Bayer’s sponsorship of WGCIT, Kurdys said the center has the same basic goal as his company’s expansive R&D department, and that is to develop and utilize new technologies that basically help growers far better and more productively. He added that the WGCIT concept of offering space within the center to emerging firms and technologies aligns well with Bayer’s philosophy “to collaborate to innovate.”
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