While research creates innovations to help move agriculture forward, growers are the drivers for new product development. As the first to identify new issues in the field, it is up to companies like Bayer to work with growers and others in its research pipeline to make sure what is happening on the farm gets translated into research and development efforts that matter.
“It takes time to develop new products so we have to be thinking ahead as many as 10 to 15 years into the future,” says David Kelner, canola portfolio manager with Bayer. “We need to be able to address emerging issues and make sure the needs of growers are being met today, but also be able forecast what might become a bigger problem based on what we are hearing from growers in Canada or other parts of the world,” explains Kelner. “This can be really challenging.”
David Kikkert, corn and soybean portfolio lead with Bayer, says that any new product development has to be very customer centric. “We listen to farmers,” he says. “They communicate to us through sales reps, both in person and virtually. We ask questions and we listen. We also are always in communication with the research community as they have a better idea what’s coming and how they are able to address it.”
He points to Palmer amaranth in the U.S. as an example of how Bayer is able to use its research network to prepare for looming threats. Researchers flagged this difficult weed as it spread throughout the U.S., and urged Canadian growers to develop a management strategy before it becomes a problem here. So while Palmer amaranth has not made its way into Canadian fields yet, it is only a matter of time and producers need to be ready.
TRAITS TO TACKLE WEEDS, DISEASE AND INSECTS
Kelner points to weed resistance as a timely example of how research has to constantly evolve to meet the changing situation on farm. He says weed resistance was an emerging problem 25 years ago whereas today it is a key area of focus for both growers and product developers, knowing that 10 years from now resistance could get even more complicated.
Kikkert says that soybean growers have identified weed resistance as a key area of concern and in order to address this, Bayer recently launched the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System. Growers can use high yielding varieties that have the agronomic package they want with an added trait that makes the plants resistant to dicamba for more targeted weed control, helping growers dealing with glyphosate-resistant kochia in the West and glyphosate-resistant fleabane in the East. In the near future, Bayer will expand those herbicide options with the introduction of XtendFlex soybeans, a system that includes glufosinate tolerance.
“In addition to resistant weeds, we have seen disease growth in specific regions,” says Kikkert. “In soybeans, that has been white mould, sudden death syndrome, soybean cyst nematode and others. It’s why we have targeted our breeding efforts to help with disease management, and our fungicide research at managing these emerging issues.”
Kikkert says corn growers have recently had challenges protecting their crop against rising threats like western bean cutworms. Bayer’s new Trecepta RIB Complete Corn introduces a trait that combines three modes of action for broad-spectrum control of above ground feeding pests, including cutworms.
Currently cutworms are a bigger problem in the U.S., but are a growing management issue for Canadian corn producers, so this trait will be important here. There is evidence that by reducing insect damage, growers can also limit wounds to corn ears, which can help manage incidences of DON, a disease that limits the quality and marketing of the crop.
“For breeders, getting this trait into the corn that had the right maturity for Canadian growers was the real challenge,” says Kikkert. “We continue to focus our corn breeding efforts on hybrids that maintain high yields and can meet the needs of specific segments, such as the shorter growing season in Western Canada,” he explains. “Including insect control with things like the Trecepta trait helps growers stay ahead of the game when it comes to insect management.”
“We keep learning more of what we are able to do,” adds Andrew Chisholm, trait and trait launch manager with Bayer. “We want to have a long-term plan for trait development but we also need to be able to deal with things when they surprise us. Cutworms came out of the blue and jumped from Nebraska to Canadian fields.
We had to be able to react quickly and while technology takes time, Bayer has a global pipeline that we can tap into to be able to address problems before they get out of hand.”
Another development for corn growers has been the breeding of shorter stature corn. It has a smaller footprint and less plant mass but produces a higher-density plant that can withstand stronger wind events. The new hybrids are currently being tested in the U.S. and will continually be evaluated for suitability for Canadian markets.
CANOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Canola growers are now benefiting from technology stemming from two new traits in TruFlex canola. One, TruFlex canola with Roundup Ready technology, adds 24 weeds to the current label and extends the window of application to allow growers to spray earlier. Two, TruFlex canola with Roundup Ready and LibertyLink technologies allows growers flexibility with growing systems while also managing weed resistance. The TruFlex canola trait addresses the limitations of application timing with a more complete rate for complex weeds.
“In canola, Canadian growers have had limited options to address concerns with resistant weeds,” says Kelner. “We are developing new technologies that introduce new modes of action to the crop that offer better weed control and will also treat emerging weed resistance concerns.”
He says Bayer is also focusing its research efforts on diseases such as clubroot, which emerged as an issue in central Alberta and has since spread to canola fields across the Prairies. While breeders were able to develop hybrids with high levels of resistance, growers are starting to report the first sources of resistance are breaking down, a sign of pathogen evolution and an upcoming challenge for plant breeders.
“We have also had to adjust how we approach insect control after growers reported a shift in the way flea beetles were behaving,” he says. “After researchers found that the dominant species had shifted from crucifer to striped flea beetles, the products that had worked for 20 years were not as effective. Bayer has developed a new product, BUTEO start, which growers will be able to begin using in 2021 to address striped and crucifer flea beetle concerns.
In terms of canola hybrids, Kelner says growers have been looking for traits that offer good protection from both clubroot and blackleg. In addition, canola hybrids with shatter resistance have proven popular not only for canola growers who straight cut, but for those who want to incorporate a hardier pod into harvest management practices that include swathing.
“Our research efforts produce tailored solutions that more often than not impact more than one aspect of crop management,” says Chisholm. “Sometimes by solving one problem you are buying time until you can better deal with another issue. These products work hand-in-hand to allow growers peace of mind at different stages of the crop.
“Yield is always important and at the end of the day it is what makes a crop profitable,” he adds. “For developers, targeting one thing is relatively straight forward but everything simultaneously is challenging. But we’re up for the challenge.”