Every year, Bayer Crop Science provides a public update to its research pipeline, emphasizing a number of key areas of emphasis where great strides in agricultural innovation are being made. Jeremy Williams, Head of Climate LLC and Digital Farming at Bayer Crop Science, sat down with Tom Eickhoff, Chief Science Officer for Climate LLC, for a short conversation about our own areas of research and where we’re delivering new value to farmers and society at large. This conversation is transcribed below, edited slightly for clarity.
Tom Eickhoff (TE): Jeremy, it’s great to catch up with you and talk a little bit about our innovation pipeline. Over the past year, as you’ve transitioned into your role - what’s stood out to you about the ways in which we’re unlocking value for growers? You come from leadership roles overseeing the development of new traits and chemistry products, and now we’re measuring the benefits of their use – it’s gotta be cool to see both sides of it.
Jeremy Williams (JW): It really is cool. It’s pretty remarkable to see how all the data that we gather, both from our customers and also our internal data, allows us to make our products more transparent in terms of the value they provide. It also helps us in terms of positioning a product so that we can provide more value to growers.
Ultimately, even the way we develop and advance these products will be informed by that data. It really has been a remarkable experience for me being able to see how we can bring all this data together with the physical products and actually provide better system recommendations for growers.
For you I’ve got a related question: we’ve talked about FieldView Seed Advisor – that’s been advancing [the past few years] – we’ve got other initiatives like Trial Advisor – or Seed Showcase – that have been coming online. From your perspective, what is it that enables us to advance this technology and these capabilities for our customers?
TE: I think the key to that question is that it’s all about the data, just as you mentioned. What really drives things like Seed Advisor, Trial Advisor and Seed Showcase, is the ability to access various aspects of [farm] data. And data truly is an asset; whether it’s coming from our Breeding pipeline, or whether it’s coming from our customers, the real power is when we bring the two together and unlock that to create insights that our customers may not be able to realize on their own.
And finally, what these programs allow us to do is not only to bring our recommendation, but pair that recommendation with what they’re trying to achieve on their own farm. It’s not a generic recommendation, it’s actually tailored to the specific situation that that farmer’s trying to achieve.
JW: That’s pretty interesting – and the examples that I talked about were seed examples. But what’s your thinking on crop protection? Where do you see the biggest value for growers there? Is it the same everywhere, or is it going to be tailored, as we like to say?
TE: I think there are some fundamental things that are the same all over the world. That really revolves around the customer. The farmer is trying to protect their investment in that seed product, and to realize the best or most profitable yield they can.
Where modeling comes in is this: it’s one element to be able to predict whether or not a disease may be a serious threat to that crop or when, or when they should maybe spray or take some sort of action against the disease. But the other important part of that: is it really a profitable decision? Even though you may make an application that controls the disease, maybe that wouldn’t have been the best economic decision. We’re really focused on the balance of both: where and when to spray, but also, is this the right financial decision for our customer?
Speaking of things that generate data and that generate value, I wanted to talk a little bit about carbon. What’s been your observation about the Bayer Carbon Program and how it’s scaled. Are folks interested in it?
JW: It’s really exciting how this effort is advancing not just in North America, but in Brazil and now starting in Europe.
The Carbon Program is, in my view, the sort of leading edge of what will be general sustainable farming practices. Society is demanding that we decarbonize, that we not only drive more productivity and profitability for growers, but also think about how the work we do in agriculture benefits the broader ecosystem. It’s an exciting opportunity that’s [encapsulated] by the Carbon Program, driving sustainability while at the same time creating business opportunities both for our customers – our growers – but also for our company. And we are all in!
We have, for example, 10-year sustainability research trials that will help us understand: what are some of the practices that are really effective, practical, and implementable at scale that can help farmers not only improve the sustainability of their operations, but have this be something they can do profitably. It’s really exciting. [We’re still in the] early days, but seeing a lot of momentum in terms of what’s both been done in the Americas and now expanding around the world.
TE: It’s awesome to see that space really evolve from just ag-input-focused, to now being more holistic and bringing in the sustainability element as well.
So, Jeremy, final word: this is the annual pipeline update. It sets the stage for the year to come. What excites you about Climate research areas in 2022?
JW: I tend to bucket these in three areas.
The first is how we advance our FieldView platform to drive additional franchise value, by providing that transparency we talked about in how our products are used and how they can be better positioned.
The [second] one is the work we do to drive new business models, to allow us to participate in additional value pools, some of them beyond the farm. Carbon is an example where we will be participating in additional value that is created because we’re producing, for example, lower-carbon ethanol or lower-carbon biofuels that can be sold at a premium to benefit farmers, but also to provide societal benefits.
The third one, which is an exciting new area of focus for us as an organization, is how we will be driving digital platforms. We recently announced a really exciting collaboration with Microsoft. This not only allows us to further scale our FieldView platform, making it more valuable and more robust, but it also allows us to take our agronomic experience, our data science, and combine it with Microsoft’s cloud engineering expertise, and now make these capabilities available to a broader collection of stakeholders [of] folks in the food industry and other companies trying to advance agricultural sustainability.
These three things: driving franchise value, supporting new value pools and new business opportunities, and the opportunities from digital platforms are some of the things I’m super excited about that we’re driving as an organization.
Same question for you: what are you excited about? If you think about it and step back to look at all the work we’re doing, what is it that really excites you about what’s yet to come from the pipeline?
TE: There’s no question when we talk about things like seed placement, crop protection, and carbon – all of those are fantastic initiatives – the real shift I’m looking forward to in the next year is that our teams are partnering in new ways.
Now, earlier than ever, in this digital environment, we’re able to ensure we have a good view of what the end product needs to look like, and how our research and data science initiatives need to take shape downstream so we can put it in a place where we can deliver new value to the farmer. This is happening faster and more efficiently than I’ve ever seen before.
Whenever you can put the customer at the center and understand what their needs are, and have that influence your product development pipeline - what a great place to be.
Jeremy, thanks for taking some time and sharing your thoughts on our overall pipeline. The innovation is incredible, but it’s really the people that make it go. Really appreciate hearing your perspective.
JW: Likewise, great to connect with you and hear how you see Science advancing all the important things we’re doing. Looking forward to a great year ahead of us!