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Germany 27/06/2024

BIG interview with Kai Wirtz, global head of Food Value Chain Partnerships at Bayer.

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Fructidor editor-in-chief Pierre Escodo asked Kai Wirtz about his main goals and strategies for Food Value Chain Partnerships:

PE: Why are value chain partnerships so important to Bayer? What are you looking to achieve with them?

KW: Agriculture today comes up against some fundamental global issues: food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, restoring nature, ensuring smallholder farmers get a fair reward, and so on. When you consider these, you quickly come to the conclusion that no single organization will meet the challenge alone. Working in partnerships is simply what we have to do if we’re to make agriculture a productive and sustainable force, in line with the needs of people and the environment.

Globally, I think the number one thing we can contribute to through partnerships is food security – connecting farmers to innovations and practices so they can grow more, feed their communities, and put a stable supply of produce into markets. At the same time, we can ensure that the new practices adopted are sustainable and regenerative – and that farmers share in the rewards from the transition. We do this by going beyond what happens in the field to address the structural, societal or economic barriers they may face.

 

PE: How are you going to focus on creating benefits for your value chain partners?

KW: We’re helping partners meet their ambitions and commitments by connecting them to a future-proof source of produce that meets their standards, and to a set of measurable sustainability benefits. Our projects work with farmers to increase not only their output but also their ability to sequester carbon, support biodiversity or limit land use change. At Bayer, we’re increasingly able to measure these benefits and communicate them in ways that track with common ESG commitments.

Of course, at Bayer we have our own sustainability commitments in terms of emissions in our own operations, but the focus of value chain partnerships is really reducing emissions and impacts in our farmer customers’ operations (and therefore those of the value chain too) rather than our own. It’s still quite rare to see a company launch sustainability initiatives that are focused on helping other companies meet their sustainability targets, but we believe that is the way we need to work!

 

PE: What is the significance of Regenerative Agriculture to your value chain partnerships?

KW: Regenerative Agriculture is one of the most talked-about concepts today. But through our partnership efforts, we are seeing it approach a turning point – where it stops being a ‘pilot concept’ and starts to grow at scale. More and more partners are talking about the subject with us, requesting partnership projects specifically centered on helping them achieve regenerative outcomes, or even presenting strategies for Regenerative Agriculture that are almost identical to our own. Which is a great start to any partnership initiative!

In a way, though, it’s no surprise that this is happening. Regenerative Agriculture is something we need to realize, but is also a big change to ‘business as usual’. So, when we all share the ambition for it, a collaborative approach – in a global ecosystem with shared innovations and insights – is the natural next step.
I’m proud that Bayer is a front-runner in this area, with value chain partnerships established for well over a decade, and a crop science strategy that puts Regenerative Agriculture right at its heart. We can engage with partners to help both parties develop the right solutions and financial mechanisms to make regeneration a reality, in line with farmer needs.

 

PE: What are the main actions that need to happen to make Regenerative Agriculture a reality, and how are you contributing to these?

KW: Getting aligned on standards is the first step to making Regenerative Agriculture happen at scale. Everyone believes Regenerative Agriculture is the future, but different actors still have different definitions of what it actually means or entails. If we can all reach a harmonized standard, it will hugely accelerate implementation, since regenerative partnership projects won’t have to start with a period of gaining mutual understanding or negotiating a joint standard – they will just be able to get going from day one. So, collaboration is already essential to the future of Regenerative Agriculture.

The next step, once we are all ‘on the same page’, is to gather data to show what the approach delivers compared to conventional practices. And multi-stakeholder partnerships are really the way forward here too. I’m thinking about how we contribute to the Living Soils of the Americas coalition with data-gathering and benchmarking, or our value chain collaborations on Direct Seeded Rice under the umbrella of the Sustainable Markets Initiative. They’re all about showing tangible outcomes while increasing the reward and resilience for farmers. And, internally, we have frameworks like CP EIR, which uses scientific models to track progress against key environmental impact markers. We have partners interested in using the CP EIR framework for their own operations, and we’re working on making a CP EIR calculator available.

 

PE: Can you tell me about the ResiYou digital residue management platform, announced in 2022?

KW: ResiYou is something I’m highly familiar with from my time in fruits and vegetables solutions. In an environment where all of us have a responsibility to meet increasing regulatory and retailer standards for residue management, ResiYou gives growers a smart way to respond to those needs within the season. It’s a predictive tool that uses analytical models and AI to forecast the residue levels in crops at the time of harvest. Users can program a treatment calendar and adjust it in response to real-time forecasts. So they retain decision-making power, and value chain partners can have the confidence that their produce complies with requirements. ResiYou’s first pilots launched last year in strawberry in Spain, and we are now looking to consolidate the approach with more territories as well as much crops – such as peach, nectarine, apple, pear, grape and tomato.

 

PE: How can value chain companies benefit from ResiYou?

KW: ResiYou was designed from the ground up to engage with the value chain, and value chain benefits are at the core of its future development roadmap. We are determined that as we consolidate the value of ResiYou, we must do so not only for farmers but for traders, processors and retailers too. The big benefit for value chain companies is that their grower suppliers can stay ahead of retailer requirements at every stage. So when a trader or processor receives a shipment, they can be confident that it will comply the standards of their downstream partners – which means the whole value chain is effectively lower-risk and more resilient. We are moving towards commercializing ResiYou in partnership with value chain companies, and already have a partnership green-lit that will supply a retailer with strawberries that meet their standards. And we are very much open to more. If you are active in a relevant crop or geography, we would love to hear from you!

 

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Kai Wirtz, global head of Food Value Chain Partnerships at Bayer
   
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