Farmers may have another tool to fight glyphosate-resistant grasses and some broadleaf weeds, as Bayer announced a new molecule in development. It is the company’s first postemergent mode of action for weed control in three decades. But don’t hold your breath in anticipation, the product will not likely be commercially available for 10 more years.
“It is a new mode of action for broad-acre weed control,” says Axel Trautwein, head of small molecules for Bayer Crop Science. While he did not disclose its profile, the molecule suppresses several glyphosate-resistant grass species like goosegrass and sourgrass, and shows “some activity on various broadleaf species.”
Currently in Phase 2 of early development, it will go through intensive human and environmental studies, development of manufacturing routes, and then to regulatory field trials.
Bayer has already completed safety, human safety and environmental safety during the discovery phase in order to find out those candidates which have the best profile. But Trautwien says the company also looks at those which are favorable — not only for farmers, but also for consumers and the environment.
The company has been battling both groups in the courtroom over claims of glyphosate causing cancer. However, Trautwein says this new herbicide mode of action will not be a replacement for glyphosate in Bayer’s weed control portfolio.
“We’re really looking for complementary offerings and especially offering different modes of actions to growers,” he explains. “The mode of action here is really new. It’s different from glyphosate and has a slightly different spectrum.”
There’s always urgency for growers to have more weed control choices, according to Bob Reiter, head of research and development at Bayer. “The biology of weeds and insects is such that they are always attempting to survive, and they’re always a challenge for growers,” he says. While the company continues to innovate to complement its current herbicide offerings, Trautwein says, “We are very confident that glyphosate itself will continue to provide a value.”
The benefits of keeping glyphosate in the product line are not just for farmers, but for the company as well. Liam Codon, Bayer Crop Science Division president, says the company had about $5 billion overall in herbicide sales in the past, and a majority of that, “over 50%, is from glyphosate.”
Add a trait
Bayer is investing more than $5.4 billion in new methods of weed control over the next decade. The molecule is being complemented by a discovery phase program in biotechnology focused on developing a herbicide tolerance to pair with the molecule.
Jeremy Williams, head of plant biotechnology at Bayer, says his group has already started on trait work. He finds this early access to the molecule reduces the delay between chemistry introduction and trait launch. Instead of chemistry launching and trait following 10 years later, the time frame is shorted to a few years. “There’s still going to be a slight delay, but the difference between the two will be considerably shorter than what it’s been historically.”
Initial launches for both will start with the corn and soybean markets.
“We look at this new molecule as an example consistent with our commitment on reducing the environmental impact of pesticides,” Reiter says. “So, it’s right in there in terms of where we want to go and what we want to provide to growers, and how we want to reshape, I think, what’s happening on the farm.”