CALGARY — Despite all the regulatory headaches, the bad public relations and the enormous scientific challenges, the head of Bayer CropScience Canada sounds delighted with his company’s acquisition of Monsanto and the future of farming.
“I miss InVigor every day, but it’s gone,” Al Driver, Bayer CropScience Canada chief executive officer, said about one of the sacrifices required by regulators to approve Bayer’s takeover of Monsanto.
However, he said the gains of the takeover were worth all the divestments, allowing Germany-based Bayer to become big enough to handle all the regulatory and scientific challenges now facing biotechnology and chemical innovations.
“It’s become less predictable and it’s become more complex,” said Driver, speaking to the Farm Forum Event in Calgary last month.
A few years ago, most of the world’s regulators would be satisfied with the safety of a new product if Canada’s or other key regulators approved it. But now most of the world’s 80 regulators want to make their own assessments and don’t begin with a lot of trust in the safety of new innovations and products, Driver said.
Getting approvals for biotechnology innovations is similarly challenging. Driver said it now takes about 15 years to get a new plant trait approved, and some products are caught up in regulatory limbo, like his company’s TruFlex canola, which China has yet to approve.
That’s why Bayer and other chemical and seed giants are merging with rivals, Driver said. Taking on the multiple regulatory challenges on top of the resources needed to invent new chemicals and create new genetic plant traits takes the kind of resources only giants can maintain.
Bayer is now integrating Monsanto’s operations, after taking over the company in August, and part of that integration includes living with the lingering hangover from Monsanto’s bad public image.
“We inherited some baggage from Monsanto,” said Driver.
That bad Monsanto reputation extends to glyphosate, which Monsanto developed and which is an integral part of many of its products whose chief value is in their glyphosate-tolerant nature.
Right after Bayer took over Monsanto, a California jury found the company responsible for a groundskeeper’s cancer and issued a $289 million penalty against the company.
Bayer is fighting that and hundreds of other glyphosate-related claims, but Driver sounded bullish on the value of the chemical, describing it as the most valuable weed control tool that farmers have.
However, he said Bayer now has sustainability built into its corporate culture, so the days are gone when the focus would be on encouraging people to use chemicals as much as possible.
Now and especially in the future as precision agriculture grows, farmers will be encouraged to apply pesticides carefully and selectively, using “tailored solutions” and “customized agronomic solutions” for situations in their fields.
To make that work, farmers will need to encourage the digital management and production tools that are being developed.
“You need to get going on digital,” said Driver.
“It’s going to change the way you farm.”