ANAHEIM, CA — In August, Bayer CropScience completed its purchase of AgraQuest, Inc., a global supplier of innovative biological pest management solutions, and four months later the integration of that company is progressing well, which should result in more crop-protection tools in the not-so-distant future for the specialty crop industry.
During the recent Produce Marketing Association convention, here, two former executives of AgraQuest who are now involved in senior management positions with the newly named “Biologics” division of Bayer spoke to The Produce News about the seamless transition and the positive impact it has had on the R&D department for that division.
Marcus Meadows-Smith, the former chief executive officer of AgraQuest, now wears the title of head of strategy and business management for Biologics, while Sarah Reiter is director of global product management for the division.
Mr. Meadows-Smith said that Davis, CA, which is where AgraQuest was previously located, will serve as the headquarters for thatnew division, adding that the infusion of the Bayer research infrastructure should allow the division to bring some new products to market at a quicker pace. He said that the people from both firms are working very well together and it has given a new energy to their work.
Ms. Reiter explained that AgraQuest typically followed a couple of promising “leads” at a time, but now the capacity to research potential products has grown exponentially.
“This should allow us to bring more products to market more quickly, and, over time, give us a more robust portfolio,” she said.
Bayer did have some products in the biopesticide arena, mostly centering around seed treatments. Ms. Reiter said this gives that multi-national company a firm foothold in the biopesticide world, which the firm now refers to as biologics because not all of the biological crop protection tools are pesticides.
Bayer has been followed into the field by several other large multi-national companies that have also announced deals with smaller biopesticide firms in the last few months.
She explained that the use of these more environmentally friendly products has progressed faster in Europe than the United States, but the United States is also registering good growth. She theorizes that the mad cow scare in Europe helped hasten consumer desire for less toxic crop-protection tools.
Europeans also tend to have a greater distrust for regulators, Ms. Reiter said, and while the United States has lots of recalls, it also has “a complex food-safety system that works incredibly well” and is one that the average consumer trusts.
Nonetheless, she said that AgraQuest always believed there was a potentially large U.S. market for these types of products, and Bayer obviously agrees.
And Ms. Reiter said the access to Bayer’s large list of crop-protection tools allows for more and varied solutions to growers’ problems.
At the time of the acquisition, Bayer touted it as giving the company the “ability to make available to customers worldwide a comprehensive range of integrated and sustainable crop solutions based on seeds, traits and combined chemical and biological crop protection, including seed treatment.”
On the flip side, the AgraQuest executives have always argued that biopesticides are much more than an organic-friendly solution to grower problems. While biologics are compatible with organic production, Ms. Reiter said that the firm’s top products can stand on their own against any solution, organic or not.
Serenade, which had been AgraQuest’s top product, is a fungicide that contains a unique, patented strain of Bacillus subtilis, which works synergistically to destroy disease pathogens and provide superior antimicrobial activity. It protects vegetable, fruit, nut and vine crops against a variety of diseases.
The firm’s latest product is Optiva, another fungicide that Ms. Reiter said attacks the same problems as Serenade “but it is better than Serenade.”
Again, for the conventional grower, the Bayer executive said it works extremely well as a part of strategy involving several different tools. It’s long been known that crop-protection tools work better in conjunction with other products so diseases or pests have a more difficult time developing resistance to the treatment.
“We don’t see biologics as a single approach but rather as part of program,” she said.
Mr. Meadows-Smith said that the Biologics division of Bayer will continue to operate in the specialty crop sector, but it will also work on solutions to issues affecting the major row crops, as Bayer is an active participant in that market as well.
Ms. Reiter said that all of agriculture needs to look outside the box to increase yields as it is a “daunting challenge” to look down the road and calculate the amount of food that will be needed several decades into the future. But she said these several months of interaction with Bayer scientists have given her optimism about the future.
“There are a lot of very smart people out there working on these problems,” Ms. Reiter said.
And Bayer executives clearly believes Biologics will be part of those solutions.