Speaking at Bayer’s headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, Liam Condon, member of the board of management of Bayer AG and president of the Crop Science Division, reminded the audience that people once had to go out and look for food. “Farmers do a damn good job,” he said. “They use technology and innovation to ensure that they can also have sustainable improvement in productivity.” He further explained, “More and more people are moving from rural areas into urban environments. Per capita, arable land is declining. The challenge is not, can we produce enough per se, it is can we produce enough in a sustainable manner? We have to drive productivity increases without harming the environment or biodiversity. Agriculture is cyclical. Demand is constantly increasing slowly, but supply is erratic.” Mr. Condon stressed “We have this fragile balance and it doesn’t take much to tip it. It’s impossible to predict where we are in a cycle.”
Bayer has achieved strong relative growth, but is expecting a decline in the difficult commercial environment of 2016. Sounding optimistic Mr. Condon expressed, “We are expecting our sales to be on a prior-year level in 2016, but are expecting from the second half of 2017, an upturn and a slow return to growth.” Further he said “You cannot motivate scientists with sales, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and market share. We all want to make a difference. What everyone who works for us works for, every day, is the future of farming.”
Liam Condon, talking about new products planned in weed, disease and pest control in the coming years as well as new varieties of rice, soybeans and other oilseeds said, “This is about €5 billion peak sales for the products to be launched and as the demand for protein is constantly increasing, Soybeans are one of the biggest drivers.” he said, highlighting soybeans in particular. He also talked about the problems of weed control. “Glyphosate resistance is spreading throughout the world,” he said. “There has been an overreliance on one active ingredient. We offer integrated solutions. We can offer a compelling package to farmers.” Bayer has continued to make sizable investments over the years and even in difficult years, research and development is the last place the company wants to make cuts. “We are also investing in collaborations with others and sometimes others invest in us,” he said.
He expected major breakthroughs from an interdisciplinary approach. Science means new techniques for plant breeding, like gene editing, gene silencing or gene stacking. “A high-tech breeding strategy will allow us to do much more,” he said. “Computational life sciences are the glue that holds the whole thing together.” With digital farming, Bayer is looking at applications specifically in the field, getting the right product and the right process to the right acre. “We can sell a disease-free field or a weed free field,” he said. “This is real. It needs to be developed further.”