THE fate of crop technology giant Bayer’s $88 billion mega merger with seed producer Monsanto rests with regulators, but the German headquartered company is tackling public trust issues as if the deal is done.
It remains to be seen how the plan to build social capital plays out, but the noises about enhanced commitment to openness and transparency could reverberate in Australia, including promotion of the environmental and health benefits of genetically modified organisms.
Speaking at Bayer’s offices at Monhiem, Germany, head of the crop science division Liam Condon said he is taking lessons from Monsanto’s rocky relationship with public confidence.
“The direct feedback from Monsanto is if they could turn back time in Europe they would do things a bit differently,” Mr Condon said.
He detailed plans for a new website by year’s end which will publish, with explanatory information, all safety data for its products and said the company’s push into digital farming systems would be based on open systems which don’t lock out competitors’ products.
“Monsanto was completely convinced of the benefits to yield and pesticide use of GMO. They thought it was so compelling it would sell itself and they didn’t engage with the public and activists were able to take over the conversation and make unjustified claims,” Mr Condon said.
“In the past there was a lot of talk about yield, but people don’t really care about that per se. They want good nutrition and sustainability.
“The idea in all natural resources is to be as efficient as possible. We need to educate people about sustainability in agriculture and how we can do that through technology, and use inputs - fertiliser, crop protection, water - in the most efficient way.”
Bayer this week applied to the European Union to extend the in-depth investigation by 10 working days, taking resolution out to January 22, 2018.
Australia’s agricultural sector has a list of unanswered questions fuelled by the spate a supersized mergers among agricultural chemical companies Dow-DuPont and Syngenta-ChinaChem and especially bayer-Monsanto, given the breadth of its product offering.
Would a Bayer-Monsanto behemoth forget the unique problems of the remote Australian market when it dominates the global crop technology market?
Will Australia’s relatively high tech farmers miss out on targeted research and development, when the merged company can afford to tackle solutions for burgeoning markets in developing nations?
Mr Condon said the merged entity would have a $2.5 billion R&D budget, so there is nothing to worry about.
But Bayer’s actions in the lead up to the Monsanto bid give pause for thought. Days before announcing the deal, Bayer pulled the pin on GM cotton programs in Australia, Brazil, India and the US.
“We would need to be represented in key strategic markets and that for sure includes Australia. The GRDC initiative is a good example of that,” he said.
The Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) signed a five-year agreement with Bayer CropScience in 2015 for an innovation partnership to tackle Australia’s $3.25b herbicide resistance problem.
“We see continue need to innovate in Australia for its specific needs and drought tolerance is another good example of that,” Mr Condon said.