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July 7, 2016

AG TECHNOLOGY: Crop Science Places Great Value on Innovation

By Yvete Minor

Crop Science, a division of Bayer is one of the charter sponsors at the Center for Innovation & Technology, so we took some time to discuss their involvement, their interests in, and their thoughts about the Center.

Bayer seeks to assist growers and partners across the food value chain with integrated crop solutions, including high value vegetable seeds, a broad portfolio of innovative biological and chemical crop protection products, complementing services and advice backed by proactive stewardship measures. Bayer is proud to be a two-year platinum program sponsor of Western Growers. The company’s singular purpose is to propel farming’s future, harnessing cutting-edge agricultural and environmental innovations to deliver on its mission: “Science For A Better Life.”

WG&S recently met with Louis Holloway and Nasser Dean of Bayer to discuss their involvement in the center. Holloway is the regional manager for field operations, which is Bayer’s field Research & Development group in California, Arizona and Hawaii. They test technologies that Bayer hopes to one-day bring to market, that will help growers improve their outcomes and efficiencies. Dean is Bayer’s stakeholder relationships manager and he works with many influential vegetable and fruit grower organizations in the Western states towards promoting sound science in public policy and regulations.


WG&S: Is there a particular type of innovation you’re hoping will come out of the Center?

LH: A grower can lose yield from many aspects: from an insect problem, a plant disease, infertility or even drought. We are very interested in solving these problems, and others we might not be aware of, that cause crop loss. Bayer would have a distinct interest in helping bring to farmers technologies that help mitigate these problems.


WG&S: Would you say that the water shortage is the biggest problem on the West Coast or are there other problems that need just as much attention with regards to innovation and technology?

ND: Because we are so close to international borders and ports, invasive pests from around the world make their way into California and they have a devastating effect on our local crops. For instance, the Asian Citrus-Psyllid (ACP) has destroyed (a significant portion) the Florida citrus crops and is now here in California.  It is a carrier for a very pernicious disease called huanglongbing (HLB) also known as citrus greening. It destroys the citrus tree and it’s incurable. This is just one of many of this type of invasive pests here in California that can destroy the agriculture industry. Our mission is to help develop technologies that can combat these threats and challenges that many growers are facing, here in California and the Southwest states.


LH: You mentioned drought. Yes, right now, water is a tremendous problem, no doubt. To bring us out of the drought will require large volumes of precipitation. This can lead to other problems such as increased plant diseases. Bayer offers a broad range of products and is looking for new technologies for crop protection, to mitigate loss and damage under all these conditions.


WG&S: You are both obviously well-versed, so how does a new “techie” get exposed to this level of need and understanding?

LH: Registering a new agricultural pesticide or agricultural protection product, is an estimated $250 million dollar endeavor for research and development—just to get it registered at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That is a high hurdle. If someone came up with a new idea or product, Bayer would know how to work with the startup and the regulatory officials to help manage the process. Helping them bring it to market is really a win-win because it benefits everyone; most importantly the farmer.

Beyond these types of innovations, other innovations are very helpful for yield. For example, imaging fields, which pinpoints where pests are located or fertility deficiencies, which helps the grower, but also helps Bayer to be a better steward of their products and services.


ND: I’ll add that on top of the $250 million, taking a product through the regulatory process can take up to 10 years before it can pass the EPA standards. The EPA does their due-diligence—it has to meet federal safety standards before products can be brought to the market. They look at all potential exposures, whether it’s workers, human health, dietary, there are close to 120 studies that have to be submitted to the EPA before a product is registered. In addition, there are state regulations—states can request even more info if they are not satisfied with the EPA’s findings. California has very stringent standards.


LH: We need technology to feed the growing population. We are looking at feeding nine billion people in the next 35 years. That’s going to require farmers to grow more produce out of one acre than they have ever had to before. The population of the planet is exploding, it is going to be critically important to have the right science and technology as tools for them to be able to produce the food that is necessary to feed this growing population.


WG&S: As an Advisory Council Member and Sponsor of the Center, what’s your vision?

LH: We are here to encourage and assist new technologies being developed at the Center. It is a unique opportunity to be involved in science for a better life, whether it’s Bayer’s own technology or not. That would help accomplish this goal of providing safe food and feeding this growing population. I’ve been in this business for 28 years and I have seen a lot of change and a lot of things come to the market, and it’s exciting to see a technology help a grower produce 5-10 percent more yield; that is a tremendous benefit, not only for the grower, but for mankind in general. It helps assure safe, affordable food for next generations.

As a father, I have the concern that we may not been able to produce enough food to feed the growing population. As a scientist, all of these technologies and innovations are a way to help protect my kids and the rest of the population’s future.


ND: Bayer is highly interested in agriculture, we are innovators and we are always developing new and better tools towards our mission of Science For A Better Life and with Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology—this forward thinking initiative—we are very proud to be an early supporter of this concept and we look forward to collaborating with the partners involved in this effort. As we mentioned before, there are numerous challenges in the farmer’s future, whether in California, Arizona and Colorado—especially within the fresh produce industry.