Despite countless protests and opposition from the public, Bayer and Monsanto have merged into one company as of June 7th, 2018. The joint company, acquiring billions of dollars in revenue each year, has incredible growth potential in terms of technology and food production. But what significance does this merger carry?
The Bayer and Monsanto merger has essentially created a monopoly for agribusiness. With just three companies - Bayer, DowDuPont, and ChemChina - now in control of 61% of seed and pesticide production, there is much to be feared for the future of small farming businesses. This highly concentrated power results in fruitless results for small companies and home businesses with less influence. This industry domination is likely to result in higher prices for crops and elevated seed costs for farmers. Crop biodiversity is likely to decline sharply, threatening food security and the benefits of biofortification. Most independent and family-owned farm businesses will not be able to survive with such an unequal balance of power.
Besides economics, increased pesticide use is also on the horizon. Monsanto has historically been criticized for its GMO production and toxic herbicide utilization. The merger will likely carry on Monsanto’s previous GMO practices, which will incentivise increased herbicide use, and thus introducing even more herbicide-resistant GMOs. This could potentially lead to increased herbicide residues in crops, pesticide resistance of weeds and other unwanted species, potential damage to neighboring farmland, and threats to animals and birds.
Another concern to be considered is Bayer’s acquisition of farm data through the company’s deal with Monsanto. Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s CEO, told Fortune Magazine, “We need to get much smarter societally about how we farm.” Together, Monsanto and Bayer will have access to farmers’ data in order to sell them seeds and pesticides. Bayer’s Climate Corp., a company that offers weather conditions and predictions to farming businesses, will now be combined with Monsanto’s Climate Fieldview. Climate Fieldview, a data company using drones, GPS, and other technologies to alert farming businesses of weather changes, will be lethal when combined with Climate Corp. The two data platforms will merge to become a large data collector and distributor, putting farmers at risk. Critics have named this potential data crisis as the “Facebook of farming” for this reason.
Bayer and Monsanto together will be able to use this data to control how many seeds are planted for farmers who utilize the climate apps. Non-governmental organizations, Friends of the Earth, Open Markets Institute and SumOfUs, explain the digital farming as, “... a way to leverage the sale of one product into another, even if that other product is lower quality or more expensive than a similar product produced by a rival. It is - potentially - a means to engage in price discrimination among farmers. It is also a way to integrate all of its businesses and thereby raise barriers to innovation or disruption from competitors.” This big data scenario can not only be used as a control mechanism, but can also result in a profit driver for the company.
Although industry disaster is a possibility, but let’s face it - Bayer and Monsanto coming together results in greater opportunity for technology advancements and increased food production to nourish an ever growing population. “The combination with Monsanto represents the kind of revolutionary approach to agriculture that will be necessary to sustainably feed the world as we enable growers with a broad set of enhanced agricultural solutions,” claims Bayer CEO, Werner Bauman. Creative innovation based on an agricultural response for food shortages in the future is crucial to Bayer. From here on out, it will be a commitment to sustainability that will differentiate the merger from being a success rather than a tragedy.