As one of the largest agribusinesses in the world, Bayer have a vested financial interest in ensuring the sustainability of the agricultural sector over the long-term.
However, as with other agricultural firms, the company is currently grappling with a 'sustainability paradox' of trying to feed a growing population while using significantly less environmental resources.
Speaking at the AgriFutures Australia EvokeAg conference, held in Melbourne last week, Bayer head of crop strategy and portfolio management Frank Terhorst said agriculture was facing a number of challenges in its road to sustainability, in particular, climate change.
FUTURE CHALLENGE: Speaking at EvokeAg in Melbourne, Bayer head of crop strategy and portfolio management Frank Terhorst said agriculture was facing a number of challenges in its road to sustainability, in particular, climate change.
"Climate change is becoming more and more the central focus of society and governments and also for us in agriculture," he said.
"The direct consequences and negative impact of climate change in agriculture are often overlooked.
"Looking at our seed business, we clearly see that small deviations in average temperature will shift the fit of varieties in certain areas dramatically."
Mr Terhorst said impacts from climate change were an immediate concern, as they were already impacting on the performance of the company's extensive seed and crop protection portfolio.
"We already today see significant impact from climate change on our products," he said.
"We need to talk as an industry about the challenges we face and also to talk about agriculture can become part of the solution.
"Because we do have the opportunity to not only reduce carbon emissions but to sequester carbon, so we can be part of the solution for the planet. "
Along with climate change, Mr Terhorst spoke of the continuing need to increased agricultural production in-line with population increases, while not ignoring consumer trends.
"The other main driver for us in agriculture is the growing population. A population that also becomes richer and has different dietary dependence," he said.
"We will have another 2.2 billion people on this earth during the next 25 years to come."
Mr Terhorst said while the population projections were huge, he was optimistic, given agriculture's track record of responding to market forces, however the challenge was in increasing production while using less natural resources.
"We need to produce 50 per cent more food during the next 10 years to come, to satisfy some of these demands which have come from Asia," he said.
"At the same time we need to limit the impacts we have on our planet and produce with less natural resources.
"That is the challenge we are currently facing, and we will need to think through how we can do this."
Mr Terhorst said Bayer felt the answer to producing increased quantities of higher quality food with less natural resources involved a shift in how agriculture was looked at.
"Our answer to this is what we call sustainable intensification," he said.
"Sustainable intensification from our perspective means we do agriculture in the best possible way, increasing quality and yields, but at the same time protect and preserve the planet."
Without referring to glyphosate
specifically, Mr Terhorst said increased regulation and societal expectations could inadvertently hinder innovation.
"We have a prodigious increase in demands to improve the safety of our products, which makes it harder to bring innovation," he said.
"Food and food production is a highly emotional topic, consumers have certain preferences and beliefs and we as an industry want to serve all of them.
"We are facing a lot of opinions and information about agriculture, sometimes also misinformation, that we need to face and find answers to, becoming more present in the public debates around food and food production will help.
"But there are certainly no easy answers."
Touching on long-term strategy, Mr Terhorst said Bayer believed digital farming technology and data would drive the transformation of agriculture and food production, however innovation in its core businesses would underpin future success.
"We strongly believe building innovation in our core businesses is more important than ever, including building and developing new seed varieties as well as developing new crop protection products, both chemical and biological," he said.
"We have a fantastic research partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation, when it comes to finding new herbicides to combat glyphosate resistant weeds. It is already delivering new candidates that we are currently testing specifically for Australia.
"This will help our customers around the globe to better grow their products and defend their harvests.
"But we also believe digital transformation needs to be the other important piece in this puzzle."
Mr Terhorst spoke of digital transformation as another key element of the company's long-term strategy.
"Digital transformation will drive a more targeted wave of agriculture, and will allow us to better place our products," he said.
"It will also allow us to make better recommendations and actually help us to build new business models around our solutions, that are more output orientated than input orientated."
By Sharon O'Keeffe