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Bayer Crop Science embraces open innovation

With more than 150 years of research and development under its belt, Bayer Crop Science is taking a collaborative approach when it comes to the future of agriculture. As part of its commitment to driving change and nurturing novel solutions, Bayer has launched three Grants4Ag opportunities, open now and closing 31 July, 2022.  

Wheat ears in test tubes
Image - Wheat ears in test tubes | Words by Megan Woodward

As one of the largest players in the field – literally and figuratively – Bayer Crop Science offers a primary source of chemistry innovation for controlling pests, disease and weeds, and seed traits for a large range of crops, and can rightfully claim the title of the largest R&D organisation in agriculture.

It's a title not taken for granted – as Bayer continues to drive both internal research and development and look outside of the organisation for the next breakthrough science to advance agriculture.

The launch of Bayer’s Grants4Ag 2022 program, offering three unique opportunities for funding and mentorship, matched with Bayer’s R&D expertise and resources – embodies this global vision, to produce more with less, enabled by transformative technologies.   

Bayer launched three Grants4Ag opportunities on the AgriFutures growAG. platform;

  • Grants4Ag: Enabling technologies for plant transformation
  • Grants4Ag: Climate solutions through plant modifications
  • Grants4Ag: Space biology exploration at Biosphere 2

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Bayer Scientists examining plants in a greenhouse

Finding and nurturing ‘cool innovation’

With more than 15 years in the agritech industry, US-based Phil Taylor, Director of Open Innovation and Outreach for Bayer Crop Science, believes that external partnering is the driving force for innovation.

“I ask the same key questions every day: ‘How do we bring new partners to the company, and how do we talk about what Bayer is doing to get folks excited to want to work with us?’,” explained Phil.

“And once we have those answers, then I ask how we are going to act upon it in a way to drive innovation to achieve things that may not happen otherwise.”

Phil said critical to answering those questions, is the acknowledgement of the fact that even though Bayer has a huge internal infrastructure, it can't solve every problem.

“We can't turn over every rock to understand what could be impactful and so it’s my job to keep the team focused on what else is going on around us and explore what else we could be looking at.

“Ultimately, I’m responsible for making sure that when ground-breaking things are happening externally to the company, it’s Bayer that gets the phone call asking ‘how can we build this together,’ and not one of our competitors. We want to put ourselves in the position to partner on cool innovation as and when it happens.”

Bayer wheat expert checking crop

Higher success with the right partners

Bayer Crop Science Strategic Partnership Lead of the Asia Pacific, Juliana Xu said the efforts of both Phil Taylor and the broader organisation, means there’s a fundamental understanding around the fact that innovation is the foundation for higher success.

“We all know we cannot do innovation alone and it’s important to find the right partners,” said Juliana, who is based in Beijing.

“One thing that we did when we set up the APAC team was to establish a network of scouting partners in the region. These included accelerators, incubators and government investment and innovation agencies that have a focus in agritech.

“Through them we could find the right innovation partners and that’s where a platform like growAG. is extremely powerful in terms of helping us to reach the right partners in Australia.”

Juliana said what makes growAG. attractive to large organisations is the support of open collaboration.

 “Corporations no longer just depend on themselves to develop innovations, and open innovation is now widely welcomed by both startups and corporates alike,” she said. “We are open to sharing our resources, our talents, our technologies, if it means that we could together accelerate the development of technologies that will eventually benefit farmers and consumers.

“growAG. also offers organisations like Bayer access to regional needs that could help us to develop technologies that benefit Australian farmers and growers too.”

3D phenotyping of weeds treated with herbicidal molecules in a research lab in Frankfurt. In the background: Dirk Schmutzler, Lab Leader Weed Control High Throughput Biology. Photo by Peter Ginter.

Testing4Ag program designed to unlock next generation chemistry

Bayer’s recently launched Testing4Ag open call, ‘Novel compounds for early biological screening cascades’ also featured on the growAG. platform, which played a key role in sourcing applications from around the world.

Geared to unlock the next exciting class of crop protection molecules for greater protection against plant pathogens, weed species, insects and pests, the Testing4Ag open call applied true precompetitive innovation.

“There were no restrictions, no formal reporting or anything official tied to the process,” explained Phil Taylor.

“With our earlier Grants4Ag program, we essentially wrote a cheque to the successful applicants and told them to go their hardest. This time, for Testing4Ag, we opened up our high throughput biological screening cascades that are all done in Europe for the three major indications for small molecules, being weed control, pest control and disease control.

“What we offered there was the idea of if you have a compound or compounds that your lab or your startup are working on or learning about or have been synthesising, then we'll test them for you. We'll run them through these cascades, and we'll share the data back with you, and we did all of that in a way where we were essentially doing it blind.”

For compounds that prove to have interest to Bayer, the offer will be made to discuss if it’s appropriate to put a licence or a collaboration plan in place. Up until that point, any IP generated stays with the applicant and the applicant’s institution.

“Each of the teams and submissions from the open call in the first quarter of this year – a number of which were from Australia – are now uploading compound information to our team in Germany and they're screening those to make sure there's no red flags and once it passes, we'll start shipping the compounds around and testing through the second half of the year.

“Hopefully, from early next year we'll have some cool stories to tell about the outcome from that.”

Phil said the value that growAG. brought to the Testing4AG opportunity was priceless.

“growAG. and platforms like it have the ability to consolidate information and tie it together in a way that really makes our jobs possible,” he said.

Bayer employee Tanja Zupritt programs a robot that processes weed seedlings in ultracompact wells. Photo by Peter Ginter.

“It really is the only way we can bring forward the volume of opportunities and the volume of ideas that we need to look at, otherwise it’s back to having to travel and run around the globe, right? This saves us a lot of that legwork. It helps give us the opportunity in a more focused way to talk about, who we are and what we're about, to create that alignment between our interests and our needs, and matching that with what's going on in the external ecosystem. So, I think platforms like growAG. are not only hugely valuable to us I think they're downright critical, frankly.

“We’re really turning a corner towards how important this could be and the partnerships that are getting formed and the innovation that's getting driven is really going to be part of the solution to so many of the different challenges and crises we have ahead of us. So there's been no better time to be in agriculture I don't think.”

Interested in other opportunities like this? Explore growAG. here.

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