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  • By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media

Bayer Opens Innovative $100M Corn Breeding Greenhouse Facility in Arizona

The unique site will be crop-specific, serving as a global product design center for corn, bringing the breeding process indoors in order to accelerate the development of innovative and sustainable seed products and agricultural solutions through proprietary seed chipping, advanced marker technology, automation and data science.

“With our new Marana greenhouses, Bayer is reimagining the way plant breeding is done and setting the standard for environmental sustainability,” said Bob Reiter, head of R&D for crop science at Bayer.

“Meeting the unique challenges that farmers face requires different ways of thinking and working, and this new innovative facility is one of the many ways Bayer will deliver on its commitments to farmers.”

Despite focusing on corn, a typical Midwestern crop, this site has been located in the desert of Arizona to leverage more days of warmth and sunlight for year-round growing, and three-to-four crop rotations per year.

The 300,000-square-foot greenhouses are the most advanced for the company, and are designed to sustainably use inputs throughout the research process. Water used will be recycled, 100 percent of the harvested materials will be composted, and beneficial insects will be used to reduce the rate of pesticide applications.

Another benefit offered at Marana is the ability to bring corn breeding research indoors into a controlled environment, eliminating exposure to volatile weather conditions which would cause delays in new seed development, and giving researchers the ability to customize conditions to simulate a variety of growing conditions.

“Every investment in innovation is an investment in more sustainable agriculture for the next generation, and the effects travel far beyond one site,” added Reiter. “The corn hybrids developed here, under diverse growing environments and weather scenarios, will bring innovation to growers in every part of the world.”

Although costly, this facility could be key to a pivot for Bayer which has been beset by a range of challenges since it completed its acquisition of Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018.

The company has been hit with an avalanche of lawsuits claiming that its common herbicide RoundUp causes cancer, only to be then hit again, losing a lawsuit over its herbicide dicamba, and being ordered to pay out $265 million to Georgia peach farmer Bill Bader whose 1,000-acre orchard was irreparably damaged from dicamba drifting from an adjacent farm. These difficulties have pressured Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, who because of the losses, was the first CEO of a top German company to have shareholders pass a no-confidence vote, and have led to Bayer Chairman Werner Wenning stepping down from his role, to be succeeded in April by Norbert Winkeljohann, who’s been a member of Bayer’s advisory board since May 2018.

Yet another challenge being faced by Bayer tha could be well-served by pivoting to a focus on corn, comes from rival Corteva (created in 2019 by the joining of the agricultural units of Down Chemical and DuPont).

After decades of leading the U.S. soybean seed market, and three years of strong sales for its Xtend Soybean seeds, Corteva’s Enlist E3 seed is taking market share, accounting for 20 percent of the 2020 U.S. soybean crop, leading to sales for Bayer’s Xtend Soybean seeds to flatline.

And although Bayer is planning a launch of XtendFlex, its next-generation Xtend seed pending regulatory approval, the greenhouses at Marana can be a launch pad from which Bayer can diversify into new, innovative solutions for corn seed technology.

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