Defying the Weather
Bayer is searching for new solutions to the massive challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century: heat, drought and floods, and the growing world population’s rising demand for food.
“Farmers like us have only one boss, and that’s nature. Our work is dictated by the sun, the rain, the wind, the change of seasons. But in the past few years, nature has become a temperamental boss. Quite simply, we can no longer depend on the seasons. It has all become mixed up,” says Do Thi Tuyen, a rice farmer in the northern Vietnamese province of Ninh Binh. First of all, an extreme drought last year delayed germination of the rice seeds. Then flooding after heavy rainfall threatened to destroy the delicate rice plants.
By 2030, rice yields will have to rise by 30 percent – from the same area of arable land – to guarantee food security.
Despite this, Do Thi Tuyen was optimistic about her most recent harvest. “My advisor Quyet Nguyen Van from Bayer showed me how I can employ innovative technologies and growing techniques to defy nature.” This year, the farmer planted Bayer’s Arize™ hybrid rice which offers increased resilience against extreme weather conditions. And, as in previous years, she has protected her rice plants against stress factors such as pests and diseases, taking proactive steps to boost the health of her crop. The result: “We were able to improve the quality of our rice and even increase yields.” Too much water, too little water, or both are a major challenge for the rice farmers of North Vietnam. Do Thi Tuyen is happy that for many years now, she has not lost her entire harvest.
Rice farmer Do Thi Tuyen feeds her ducks in northern Vietnam. She is glad that she hasn’t lost her entire harvest in years.
Rice is an important staple food particularly in Asia. The main producers are approximately 200 million small farmers like Do Thi Tuyen and Phan Van Giang.
Phan Van Giang farms in the southern Mekong Delta, where soil salinization is a problem. He uses a hybrid rice variety from Bayer, which produces higher yields even in difficult years.
In the south of Vietnam, in the Mekong Delta, the situation is more serious for many farmers. When the rainy season starts late and brings less rain than usual so that the Mekong River carries less water, the sea floods into the interior of the country and salinizes the soil. This can have devastating consequences. “Many rice growers in our region had to stop farming their fields last year because the strongly salinated water destroyed the rice shortly after it was planted,” says Phan Van Giang, who has farmed a four-hectare rice farm in the Mekong Delta for 20 years. He has grown Bayer’s Arize™ B-TE1 variety ever since he heard about this new variety a few years ago at a seminar. He was the first farmer in his region to try it out. “Compared with traditional rice, the hybrid rice Arize™ has greater tolerance to salinization, drought and flooding, it is less susceptible to disease, and it produces much higher yields, even in difficult years like last year.”
Rice is an important staple food for more than 3.5 billion people, particularly in Asia. The main producers are approximately 200 million small farmers like Do Thi Tuyen and Phan Van Giang. They are exposed to extreme weather situations and need innovative technologies and state-of-the-art agricultural knowledge. Help is available through Bayer’s “Much More Rice” program. “This program is a comprehensive package of solutions that helps small farmers in many countries in Asia to optimally employ innovative technologies such as Bayer’s Arize™ seeds and crop protection solutions,” explains Mahesh Girdhar, Bayer Global Crop Manager Rice. “Our experts also show farmers how they can increase the quality and quantity of their rice harvests even under difficult weather conditions.” For example, the seed treatment Gaucho™ shields rice plants against stress during the initial, particularly vulnerable stage. The treatment strengthens the rice plant’s root and shoot growth and helps it to withstand drought and heat phases. The fungicide Nativo™ promotes photosynthesis and positively impacts the plant’s productivity under heat stress.
“Our experts show farmers how they can increase the quality and quantity of their rice harvests even under difficult conditions.”
Mahesh Girdhar, Bayer Global Crop Manager Rice
As extreme weather is likely to continue to be a major problem in the future, Bayer has developed seed that is able to survive being immersed for 14 days. The market introduction is scheduled for 2016. In 2017, Bayer plans to launch a new Arize™ seed variety which will survive twice the level of salinity compared to previous varieties. For rice growers like Do Thi Tuyen and Phan Van Giang, that is good news.
On his farm in Monument, Kansas, United States, Craig Reed is battling the consequences of persistent drought in particular. He’s hoping for new wheat varieties and a broader spectrum of innovative herbicides.
of the world’s arable land is planted with wheat. Wheat is a crucial factor for the food security of more than 2 billion people.
On the other side of the Pacific, some 14,000 kilometers to the east of Vietnam in the U.S. state of Kansas, wheat farmer Craig Reed is just as embattled by the vagaries of the weather as his colleagues in Asia. “Drought is the main reason for harvest failures in wheat,” he says. “We need about 50 centimeters of precipitation per year. But in some years, we only get 25 centimeters. That means that we farmers risk everything for the harvest on an annual basis. But no matter how often Mother Nature tries to trip us up, we always get up again and start afresh the following year. “
As a result of the dry conditions, Reed and many of his colleagues have decided against tilling in order to retain as much moisture in the soil as possible. But that has one major disadvantage, as Reed explains. “The weeds spread faster every year.” Reed is particularly worried about increasing herbicide resistance, particularly in the weed species “kochia” (burningbush). This weed competes with wheat plants for light, nutrients and moisture, and can have a dramatic impact on harvests. “What we urgently need is a greater spectrum of new herbicides for the future to prevent resistances from developing so that existing herbicides will remain effective,” says Reed.
The demand for wheat will increase by approximately 60 percent by 2050.
While climate and resistance problems have been impacting the yields of wheat growers all over the world since the 1990s, what is really urgently needed is bigger harvests. “The demand for staple foods will rise by 60 percent by 2050,” says Steve Patterson, Bayer Global Crop Manager Cereals. “For wheat, the major driver is the growing world population, followed by the shifting diets of the new middle classes in emerging countries.”
Production, however, is unable to keep up. In addition, a recent study revealed that the wheat harvest could decline by six percent with every degree of climate warming. “To close this gap and safeguard the wheat supply, we need a technological breakthrough in wheat research,” says Patterson. Miracles should not be expected though. “We’re never going to be able to grow wheat in the Sahara and we can’t bring withered plants back to life. But we can help to compensate for drought-related harvest losses. We can help the plants to perform better in key phases of drought and heat stress.”
“We need a technological breakthrough in wheat research.”
Steve Patterson, Bayer Global Crop Manager Cereals
Scientists are looking for chemical innovations to serve as a protective shield to plants in emergency situations. Meanwhile, researchers are also working on developing wheat varieties with greater vitality and enhanced heat tolerance. To adapt wheat varieties to the respective climate conditions, Bayer’s breeding work is carried out all over the world with locally adapted varieties being bred for greater environmental tolerance and robustness at breeding stations in Canada, Belgium, Germany, France, Ukraine, Australia and the United States. The breakthrough is expected to arrive after 2023.
For wheat farmer Reed, this is a perspective that offers him hope. “To achieve this quantum leap in global nutrition, we need companies and organizations that can see the big picture, or we will never solve the problem.”