JERSEYVILLE, Ill. — When Liam Condon talks, people listen.
The president of Bayer’s Crop Science Division has done a lot of talking – and a lot of listening – in the 14 months since the Bayer purchase of Monsanto became final and official in June 2018.
But he knows that in order to make a real success of the merger going forward, he and others in the company are going to have to do listen to suggestions, concerns and ideas from a varied list of groups, ranging from shareholders to farmers and one of the groups that Condon emphasized at a media day — the public, consumers.
“We had a bit more noise than we were expecting at the beginning of getting together,” said Condon to the assembled media, referring to the uproar over the Monsanto glyphosate herbicide Roundup. In August 2018, a California jury awarded a $289.2 million verdict to a former groundskeeper who maintained that his cancer was caused by using the herbicide over a period of years. In July, a federal district judge found the verdict financial award excessive and reduced it by $55 million.
Condon emphasized the need for the company to have a conversation with the public.
“The last part is to engage in dialogue. Listen and hear what concerns are out there and then address those concerns in as open and transparent and honest a manner as possible,” he said.
After his remarks, Condon sat down with media for one on one interviews. We asked him five questions.
What can farmers do to support and defend existing herbicides, like glyphosate?
It really starts with explaining. You’ve got to go back to the basics of what is agriculture about.
A lot of people are completely disconnected from ag. We had visitors here today who have never been on a farm. We have got to remind people that growing crops is really difficult.
Weeds are a huge challenge. You need tools to be able to deal with that. One tool is glyphosate, super effective, has a fantastic safety profile.
I think we just need to go back to the basics of trying to reconnect a part of the public that’s become disconnected from farming and just explain what challenges to farmers face and then what role do these types of products play.
What do we say to those who say glyphosate should be banned?
If you are going to take that away, what is your alternative solution? And then the discussion quickly dies down because people don’t have an alternative to offer.
You mentioned a carbon zero future for ag. Climate change is a hot topic – literally. In agriculture circles. How do you plan to talk about that carbon zero idea to farmers, who might be skeptical?
What’s clear is the weather is more erratic. There is an issue with carbon emissions. We actually think there is a possibility to flip this and instead of accusing agriculture of being part of the problem, make agriculture part of the solution, because growers can do more than probably any other industry in the world to sequester carbon in the soil and to actually help address some of the issues of climate change.
Ideally, we’d get to a situation that farmers would actually be getting rewarded for doing this and that’s something that we want to work toward.
Do you see more acceptance of this idea in the EU than among farmers in the United States?
For me, it’s an opportunity for growers. In Europe, the discussion is more defensive because governments are coming up with more and more restrictions that are hurting growers.
There’s a lack of innovation, a lack of technology, so there it’s actually becoming much more difficult and I think here, there’s an opportunity to get ahead of the curve, rather than defensively react afterwards, to see it as a business opportunity.
How is the transition going?
I’ve been positively surprised at how well the integration is going. I’ve been through these types of integrations before, they don’t always go so well.
This one has gone remarkably well and our experience has been when you bring a bunch of legacy Bayer people and a bunch of legacy Monsanto people together, put them on a common topic, they immediately just figure out what the solution is and everyone is working together as one team.
You cannot tell who’s from Bayer or who’s from Monsanto. It just speaks to how quickly the teams have gelled. That’s been a real positive revelation.
For us, it was really important that the customer at the grower end, that there was no distraction for them and they weren’t noticing that things were not fitting together. I think from the business results, that’s more or less been achieved.