Peter R Mueller, Head of the Crop Science division, Bayer South Asia spoke to Rajesh Bhayani on the company's plans for India and the Bayer-Monsanto merger scenario. Excerpts:
The Bayer-Monsanto merger seems to be missing the deadline. By when do you think it can be closed?
We are cooperating with all relevant regulators in several jurisdictions, including in India and Europe. On October 5, 2017, the European Commission's anti-trust authority announced that it has "stopped the clock" in the approval process to give the parties more time to provide certain requested information. We are making every effort to answer all of the Commission's questions as soon as possible. Bayer and Monsanto will continue to cooperate with the authorities in order to complete the transaction by early 2018. Until closing, Bayer and Monsanto will continue to operate as two independent businesses.
In India, Monsanto faced issues relating to protection of intellectual property rights regarding Bt Cottonseeds. After that many MNCs in India's farm segment stopped investing in the country. What is Bayer Crop Science's stand on that?
Bayer's association in India is 120 years old. India is an important market and plays a very strategic role in our overall crop science business. We will continue to invest in the Indian market through new products and solutions. However, as an innovation-based company that is investing billions into research and development, we are definitely concerned about IP protection, which is a key point for all our future investments and will always remain a top priority. I can't comment on Monsanto's issues but Bayer's crop science business in India has not faced any kind of major IP issues. When Bayer faces an issue that concerns us or the industry, we try to solve it through dialogue with the concerned authorities.
How do you see the Indian market's growth prospects?
We are the market leader in India in the crop protection business. We are also the market leader in the hybrid rice seeds business and a significant player in cotton, mustard and millet seeds. Over the years we have been growing at a faster rate than the market. India is one market where our domestic growth is in double digits and we would like to continue this momentum in the coming years. India also operates as a global production hub for our overseas market. In terms of investments, India is one of the strategic growth countries for Bayer globally and will continue to remain an investment destination for the company. In the past three years alone, Bayer has invested approximately €200 million in various production facilities and breeding stations in India. We are also investing in the areas of agri-extension, educating farmers on good agronomic practices, offering comprehensive solutions and digital farming/advisory.
Does that include investments in new products?
In 2016, Bayer successfully launched several new product. The year 2017 was again an eventful one, full of new launches and innovations that we brought to India. In crop protection, we launched Sivanto Prime, an innovative insecticide for sucking pests such as jassids and whiteflies. Lined up next for launch are our two new fungicide brands: Infinito and Emesto Prime, both of which will cater to the potato crop. In seeds, we launched three new rice hybrids: Arize AZ 8433 DT, Arize AZ 6453 and Arize AZ 6508. In environmental science, we launched Maxforce Quantum, an innovative insecticide for professional pest management of ants.
What is Bayer doing to tackle the issue of spurious products?
Along with our industry association, CropLife India, we are in constant dialogue with the authorities on the topic of fake and spurious products. It is an area of high concern for us as these products are seriously harming agriculture in India. The quality of the products is not only questionable but also highly dangerous to human health and environment. Internally, we have a Product Defence team dedicated to working together with the authorities to help take legal action against makers of counterfeit products. Bayer takes this problem very seriously and is continuously working with the authorities to counter the problem. We also work closely with farmers and guide them on identifying spurious products and train farmers on responsible product stewardship.
Sowing this year has been good, which must have benefited your company. What is your FY18 guidance for Bayer Crop Science in India?
When one judges whether the monsoon season was good or not, it depends on many parameters. It is not only a question of how much of the long-term average it has rained, but it has also to do with the timing, the distribution, the relation with the crop sowing and so on. You have to go to micro-geographies and then you have to match it with your portfolio in the crops concerned.
Since the business is still going on, we can’t really comment on the outcome of the financial year. The complete picture will be available in Q1 of 2018. As of now we are focusing on the Rabi season. India has enormous potential for growth in agriculture and with the Indian government talking about doubling farmers’ income in next five years, increasing crop productivity will be a crucial aspect. We are proactively working with our farmers and partners along the food value chain to improve productivity and help feed the growing population.