Bayer merger brings on new focus

When John Gray set foot in the United States a little more than five months ago from The Philippines, he wasted little time anticipating the job before him: 15 new products over the next five years, and a strong presence in biotechnology for the future at Bayer CropScience, the third largest crop protection company in the United States.

From his office in Research Triangle Park, N.C., he directs an extensive group of people and products created when Bayer bought Aventis and created Bayer CropScience. Gray is vice president of marketing and portfolio management for Bayer CropScience. Gray comes to North Carolina after three years of managing the Aventis business in The Philippines. A native of New Zealand, he previously worked in Australia and New Zealand with Rhone-Poulenc.

Bayer's purchase of Aventis CropScience for $7.2 billion last year brought together two “compatible companies”: Aventis with its presence in seeds, insecticides and herbicides and biotechnology and Bayer with its broad portfolio products across most major crops. Gray says it was a perfect strategic move, merging a company with a strong base of traditional crop protection products with a company that has a tremendous wealth of genomic data. Worldwide, Bayer CropScience is the second largest crop protection company.

The company now presents one face to its customers with the motto, “Bayer CropScience, Your Partner for Growth.”

The company has spent much of 2002 defining goals and strategies for the short-term and long-term future of the company and relocating some of its personnel either to RTP or Kansas City, the former headquarters of Bayer Crop Protection, Gray says. “We have a clear view of where we're going to go,” he says. Gray sees growth for Bayer CropScience in the traditional crop protection product market, as well as biotechnology. The new company has three regional offices, a core technology center in Kansas City, Mo.; manufacturing facilities in Kansas City and Institute, W.Va.; formulation plants in Woodbine, Ga., and St. Louis.

The strategy for the new firm involves managing the entire Bayer CropScience portfolio and working extensively with what the company calls “channel partners,” those firms who sell and service the products to growers.

Over the next two years, Bayer CropScience will focus on the corn market. “The corn market is somewhat uncertain given the development of Roundup Ready,” Gray says. “The adoption of Roundup Ready will need to be managed very carefully and needs to be integrated with multiple applications of alternative products.”

Bayer CropScience introduced Option herbicide for the corn market last year. Liberty, Balance, Axion, Epic herbicides are also in the Bayer CropScience corn herbicide stable.

In the five-year time frame, Bayer CropScience looks to the introduction of at least 15 new active ingredients. “It's an exciting plan,” Gray says. “Some of the products will be pretty significant additions to the markets where they're introduced. Individually, Aventis and Bayer has already introduced seven products over the past two years. He sees farmer interest increasing toward higher concentration, lower dose application products.

Bayer came to the merger with an extensive list of products in a number of crops, including a big emphasis on insecticides, seed treatments and peanut fungicides. “We will continue to place a big emphasis on peanuts,” Gray says. “We are aware of the challenges the peanut industry is facing, but in many regards producers will be looking for best practices to maximize yields and produce peanuts profitably.” He sees Bayer CropScience continuing its support of the peanut industry.

Farmers will continue to look at new products on the basis of value they offer, Gray says. In other words, how a product can “increase yield, decrease cost and improve return on investment.” Good farmers focus on increasing yields while decreasing costs, Gray says.

“Our growth is going to come from new products,” Gray says.

Bayer CropScience also has an extensive range of brands on the market. “A portion of our portfolio is mature,” Gray says. “It's a major challenge to focus our attention on key opportunities.” A major decline in the traditional crop protection market is led by the increased use of biotechnology.

The strategy for managing this extensive portfolio of 38 active ingredients will involve looking at all opportunities within the portfolio in association with the Bayer CropScience channel partners, Gray says.

On the horizon for 2003 is the introduction of Liberty Link Cotton. The biotechnology was developed at Aventis, along with the much-touted FiberMax varieties. Liberty Link will provide cotton growers an alternative to control difficult-to-control weeds. “Bayer CropScience already has a very big investment in biotechnology, besides Liberty Link, so biotechnology will continue to play an important role in the crop protection business for us,” Gray says.

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