Bayer CropScience is a powerful player and competitor in the global biopesticide market. The company began its presence in this sector more than 10 years ago and has successfully commercialized several biopesticide products around the world. The company is now cooperating with many R&D companies in specialist fields and is developing several products in the pipeline of frontier biology.
In a recent interview with AgroPages, Benoit Hartmann (Head of Biologics R&D at Bayer) introduced, in detail, the R&D layout and progress of Bayer’s biological product portfolio, as well as its development philosophy for biological products, and his understanding of biocontrol and its importance to plant protection.
Benoit Hartmann, Head of Biologics R&D at Bayer
The development of Bayer biological business
Since 2009, Bayer CropScience started its campaign to acquire a series of biopesticide companies and began researching relevant biopesticides. In 2009, it acquired the Bacillus firmus technology of AgroGreen, an Israeli biopesticide company. In 2011, it launched Poncho/VOTiVO, a seed treatment combining Bacillus firmus and clothianidin, which is the first seed treatment product in the world that combines a chemical pesticide and a biological pesticide.
In 2012, Bayer acquired AgraQuest, an American biopesticide company, for US$425 million, and in January 2013, it acquired Prophyta GmbH, a German biopesticide company. Since then, it has been a leader in the biopesticide sector.
The two companies acquired by Bayer have their own specific strengths. California-based AgraQuest mainly develops bacteria-based microbial pesticide products. Prophyta specializes in fungi-based microbial pesticide products. The acquisition of these companies with different features has fully complemented Bayer’s biological product portfolio.
The acquisition of AgraQuest also introduced Serenade®, the first biopesticide in Bayer’s product line. Following the acquisition, Bayer simultaneously launched the product globally, including in Brazil, Canada, Australia and China.
In addition to Serenade®, AgraQuest’s other main products include the fungicides, Rhapsody®, Sonata® and Ballad®, and the insecticide, Requiem®. These products are complementing Bayer’s product portfolio.
In 2014, Bayer acquired the Biagro Group, an Argentine seed treatment bio-solutions company. In the same year, Bayer CropScience acquired the sole European distribution rights for the biological fungicide, Contans™ WG, from Belchim Crop Protection NV. Contans™ WG is a major biological fungicide currently used in conventional agriculture in Europe and is widely recognized as a successful model in the biocontrol market.
In addition to direct acquisitions, Bayer has also been working on cutting-edge biological products, by enhancing its cooperation with organizations that offer relevant products and technologies.
In 2015, Bayer CropScience partnered with Elemental Enzymes to launch an initiative to improve crop yield, involving the application of soil microbes for crop health and yield improvement.
After acquiring Monsanto in 2018, Bayer continued its collaboration with Novozymes by jointly marketing BioRise 2, a microbial seed coating for corn that combines the active ingredients of Acceleron B-300 SAT.
RNAi, a new biopesticide with the qualities of specificity and environmental friendliness, will play an increasingly important role in the field of pest control. Bayer has been extensively working on this type of product in recent years. Of all the RNAi products in pipeline that have been disclosed, Bayer has so far released three and leads in terms of total number among multinational companies. In 2019, Bayer submitted the registration application for BioDirect to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. BioDirect is a double-stranded RNA used for controlling varroa mites, the most dangerous pest to the international beekeeping industry.
In 2019, Bayer started collaborating with Arvinas, Inc. to develop a novel protein, Proteolysis-Targeting Chimera, also known as PROTACs, for use by humans and on plants. PROTAC® technology harnesses the naturally occurring protein degradation system of cells to selectively remove target proteins through proteolysis, the breakdown of proteins into amino acids. The collaboration highlights the utilization of potential synergies of emerging and converging research across human and plant applications, which is unprecedented in the life science sector.
Exclusive interview with Benoit Hartmann
AgroPages: What is the strategic position of Bayer's biological control business in its overall crop protection business of Bayer CropScience?
Hartmann: As a global agriculture leader committed to introducing solutions that help farmers become more profitable and sustainable, we recognize that biologicals will continue to play a central, and growing, role in the overall Bayer Crop Science strategy and product portfolio. We aspire to lead and shape the development and growth of this high-potential market.
Biologicals likewise will be a game-changer in our efforts to pursue more sustainable agriculture. We have made bold commitments to reduce both the environmental impact of crop protection and volume of greenhouse gas emissions produced by agriculture by 30 percent by 2030. Having the most advanced biological and synthetic crop protection will help make these targets achievable, as we can reduce residues, improve plant health and resistance management, decrease the need for fertilizer inputs and minimize interference with beneficial insects.
With that said, I'd also like to clarify that our goal is not to separate biologicals from other crop protection practices, but instead demonstrate how they can complement each other for optimal benefit within conventional farming systems.
AgroPages: Can you briefly introduce Bayer's R&D achievements and product commercialization progress in the field of microbial pesticides since it successively acquired AgraQuest and Prophyta in 2012 and 2013?
Hartmann: Since the acquisitions of AgraQuest and Prophyta, we've gained a deeper understanding of the best practices for full product development and how we can prepare markets to achieve the greatest possible return from their biological products. This includes exploring modes of action to provide more precise guidance on when and how to deploy these products, as well as creative field testing to gauge positioning within conventional farming. In doing so, we can become better collaborative partners and favorably position ourselves to expand our biological product offerings.
AgroPages: Can you introduce to us which cooperations have made significant progress, and what kind of products will be put on the market from such cooperation?
Hartmann: Bayer Crop Science operates under the premise of open innovation, maintaining a collaborative spirit and open mind to identify partnerships that can bring imaginative agriculture possibilities to life. This is no different across our biologicals work. By accelerating our approach to a dedicated open ecosystem model, we can expand beyond our traditional biological platforms and focus on new programs where we can deliver great value.
We are confident that we will continue to be the partner of choice in biological innovation for a variety of reasons, including our development capabilities and digital know-how, our global footprint, our ability to integrate solutions in crop systems from planting to harvest, our commitment to sustainability and our vast biological product development experience. Building on our recent successes in developing products with external innovation leaders such as Novozymes (BioRise) and Alpha Biocontrol (FLiPPER and Missito), we see major opportunities to expand our partnership base and portfolio of innovative and sustainable solutions by increasing our access to the vibrant external innovation community focused on the discovery of biological candidates.
We're already seeing the benefits of our open innovation approach coming to life. For example, we recently launched our Vynyty Citrus device, a first-of-its-kind container with biological pest control liquid formulated with pheromones and natural pyrethrin to control citrus pests without generating harmful residues.
AgroPages: At present, what are the main developmental areas that Bayer focuses?
Hartmann: We continue to explore and focus on the areas where we can use biologicals to deliver the greatest value to growers while ensuring we can expand beyond the platforms we traditionally have pursued. Through this strategy, we expect to achieve a wider portfolio of diversified biological solutions aligned with our strategic priorities: to deliver incremental performance, manage resistance with new modes of action, reduce environmental impact (including sustainable practices such as nitrogen management and carbon sequestration) and address growers' most pressing challenges.
Furthermore, we're aligning our biologicals work with our overarching R&D strategy to pursue both incremental and disruptive innovation by continuously improving our offerings while advancing transformational breakthroughs with partners. Through our open innovation approach, we anticipate expanding into other capabilities – such as macrobials, pheromones and plant extracts – to develop a more diverse and competitive biologicals portfolio.
AgroPages: Although it has been the trend of crop protection in the whole world, we still received feedbacks from local dealers that the use of these products has practical difficulties such as slow onset of effect, high cost, and high technical requirements. What is your opinion about this?
Hartmann: A significant part of our biologicals program is understanding where we can deliver the greatest value. Doing so requires close collaboration with customers to identify both where they may be struggling with biologicals or potential sources of hesitation to adopt them. We're pursuing new formulations to make our biologicals offerings more durable and beneficial. In particular, we're concentrating on bacteria-based products rooted in spore stability for easier handling.
We also recognize that no one product type can answer the entire industry's needs. That's why we're prioritizing the acceleration of access to all potential platforms. For instance, we are integrating plant extracts and pheromones to complement our more traditional microbial-based solutions. Additionally, we've initiated new research to explore how to stabilize non-spore organisms for extended shelf life. While we don't have every answer just yet, we see plenty of opportunity for new products in these areas and are excited to pursue them further.
AgroPages: As the strategic deployment of major multinational companies in the biological field becomes clearer, how do you see the future competitive situation in this field?
Hartmann: Biologicals undoubtedly will play an increasingly important role in the future of agriculture, creating a growing and opportune market. Projections forecast that biologicals will become a $21B industry by 2027, up from the $7.1B it is today. This is not surprising, given the dynamic and fast-moving ag tech climate and the societal and regulatory pressures agriculture faces to reduce its environmental impact.
The versatility of biologicals also creates opportunity for new uses, and thus more opportunity for companies to enter the market. Today, biologicals are used on anywhere between 42 and 66 percent of crops to control insects and diseases, and as stimulants. While most growers use them in programs alongside chemical products, the volume and depth of use of biologicals is expected to significantly increase in the next 3-5 years.
This interview was organized and published in the magazine 2021 Biologicals Special.
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