The new year brought a new structure for Bayer’s Canadian agriculture business. The acquisition of Monsanto, approved last July, provided Bayer the opportunity to rethink how it operates the business and how it speaks to its customers. Some difficult and complex changes were needed, but in the end, the company is now fully prepared to support growers and retailers through the upcoming growing season and beyond.
“From an organizational perspective, we had a lot of work to do before we could get everyone in the positions they needed to be in,” says Al Driver, country division head for Bayer’s Crop Science division in Canada. “By the middle of January, we were the first country in the Bayer framework to have our entire sales, marketing and market development teams in place, top to bottom, to start training everyone on our products and services. I feel like I have over 200 new friends coming into this year, and it’s time to get to know each other better.”
A STRUCTURE BASED ON CUSTOMER NEED
Getting the organizational structure in place was a key milestone for the company. The initial goal was to minimize disruption to customers while, at the same time, make sure people were put in roles that fit the company’s long-term objectives. This involved some tough resourcing decisions, but Driver is confident that, right now, they have people where they need to be in order to be successful going forward.
“Customers, whether retailers or growers, are our main focus, making sure they have the products they need and the support we have committed to as we approach seeding,” says Driver. “We identified all of our territory boundaries in a way that we can offer growers the best possible service. Each territory has a single sales representative responsible for the entire portfolio, with a team of agronomists, marketing specialists, seed growth experts and climate teams backing them up.”
Driver says to ensure customer ease, sales representatives will have all the tools needed to take ownership of their territories. Lines of communication have been set up so that answers are easy to find. He says those lines of communication work both ways as growers have made it clear it’s important to them to involve the public and other stakeholders in conversations about modern agriculture in order to increase trust in Canadian food systems.
TRUST IS PARAMOUNT
“It’s clear to us that trust is extremely important in how we do business,” says Driver. “It’s hard to innovate without a social license to operate. The fact is, globally, we need to figure out a way to feed close to 10 billion people by 2050,” he explains. “In most people’s lifetimes in Canada, we have not seen any food shortages, so it’s easier to criticize how we reach that goal. It will be our job to help address public perception through transparent discussion about our processes and the regulatory environment in which we do business.”
Driver says everyone in the company is well aware of the need to involve the public and other stakeholders in conversations about agriculture, knowing it is critical that it builds trust in food and in those who produce it. He points to public perception around glyphosate herbicide, and the ongoing need to prove the product is safe, as an example of where trust has been an issue.
“The recent re-evaluation of what was to have been the final decision on the safety of glyphosate by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) shows what we are up against,” he says. “Over 160 countries approve the use of glyphosate and, as Health Canada states: ‘No pesticide regulatory agency in the world currently considers glyohosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed. But there is a subset of the population that has not accepted the scientific evidence no matter how it is approached,” he says. “It is our role to stand behind our technology so farmers have the tools they need to be productive.”
A FOCUS ON TRANSPARENCY
One way Bayer is building trust is by providing as much information as possible to customers and consumers. To that end, the company recently published over 300 documents on glyphosate in its research efforts as part of its Transparency in Crop Science website, www.cropsciencetransparency.bayer.com.
As well, Driver is a spokesperson for modern agriculture as Chair of CropLife Canada. And Bayer remains a strong supporter of Ag in the Classroom and advocates for agriculture as part of grower organizations across the country.
Driver adds that Bayer and Monsanto brought together large amounts of research data and put it into the digital arena for easier access. “We can now present all of our data in a transparent manner,” says Driver. “Farmers need to have access to information and have tools available to use it wisely. Digital tools such as Climate FieldView will help them handle the variables on their farms in a way that they can manage their inputs and other resources more effectively.”
TRUST ESSENTIAL FOR INNOVATION
Driver says that trust will also be a necessary component in helping the industry innovate to compete globally and to create solutions to farming and food concerns. He says that the recent consolidation in Canadian agriculture is ultimately a positive development for growers and consumers and that in the current regulatory environment, most innovation will come from companies that have the capacity and expertise to invest in research and development, and work through the steps required to bring new concepts to market.
“In Canadian agriculture, we now have four main companies, similar to Bayer, that are well resourced to meet the demands of consumers, growers and regulators,” says Driver. “They are motivated to innovate while still maintaining a competitive environment for their products and services. Canadian agriculture is now in a really good position — it is able to compete on a global scale because we have a sustainable industry that can keep up with changing technologies.”
Globally, Bayer has committed to invest over $3. 03 billion CAD (€2 billion) each year in agriculture. Driver says this level of investment would not have been possible without the current scale of the combined company.
“We are already seeing some of those investments come to fruition,” he says. “We’ve recently received approval for our TruFlex canola Roundup Ready trait, allowing increased flexibility for canola growers. We would never have been able to work through all of the regulatory requirements for approval as quickly as we have without the resources we have today. We’re excited to launch TruFlex as our first product offering this spring.
“I am proud to be leading an enthusiastic team that is ready and excited to exceed our customers’ needs,” says Driver. “We feel we have created an organization that will help positively shape the future of Canadian agriculture.”