A couple weeks ago I wrote an article speculating on what might happen if Bayer decided it was done with glyphosate (and, by extension, Round-Up). The company inherited thousands of glyphosate lawsuits when it purchased Monsanto. And keeping the popular herbicide approved in the EU is getting trickier. So maybe Bayer would decide it was time to move on…
Well, that’s pretty much what just happened.
Bayer announced it plans on investing over $5.6 billion in developing new ways to combat weeds. It explained the investment “will go towards improving the understanding of resistance mechanisms, discovering and developing new modes of actions, further developing tailored Integrated Weed Management solutions and developing more precise recommendations through digital farming tools.” Bayer also wants to partner with weed scientists around the world to develop more localized solutions.
As Politico’s Morning Ag points out: that’s a lot of cash. Sure, Bayer is a huge company with lots of resources. But $5.6 billion is equivalent to the entire amount the company spends on R&D annually.
This move was going to happen eventually, even without glyphosate’s problems. Round-Up is off patent, so anyone can produce it. And weeds develop resistance to herbicides all the time. It’s a problem farmers have dealt with for the entire history of this occupation. So we have to adapt, evolve, and find new ways to beat weeds.
But I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bayer made the decision now. Its legal bills are piling up. Investors are unhappy they just bought a mess of litigation. And the organized and calculated hit job will only continue.
Glyphosate isn’t going way. But Bayer/Monsanto is ready to move on.
Here’s my hope though: that they learned from their Round-Up mistakes. Monsanto’s public-relations team admitted to us back in 2017 that they kinda messed up. They thought they only had to sell genetically-modified crops, specifically the Round-Up Ready traits, to farmers. They never anticipated needing to convince consumers that GMOs are good, too.
So when Bayer finally finds the next-best herbicide, I hope they sell it to all of us: farmers and consumers alike. And in our digital age of social-media wisdom, that’s the only real option. Otherwise, history will repeat itself.