Bayer Opens New Bio-Agriculture Facilities in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN — Bayer CropScience, a division of German pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate Bayer AG, announced the opening of two agricultural biotechnology facilities in Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Through a combined investment of $17 million, the multi-national company carried out a remodeling of its existing Sabana Grande facility and built a brand-new research and development center in Guánica.
“Puerto Rico has some unique capabilities because it enables us to do breeding and development all year-round,” Frank Terhorst, Global Head of Seeds for Bayer CropScience, told Caribbean Business. “[It] actually helps us to speed up development process, [which makes] Puerto Rico a very important element to bring solutions to the market, not only here but also in North and South America.”
The Guánica facility, which cost around $10 million, is a “trait development multi-crop station” consisting of a 264-acre lot with three buildings totaling 18,000 square feet. It focuses on cotton, soybean and corn, and is geared more towards the company’s long-term plans, with R&D work at the site focused mainly on product offerings and new technologies that are not slated to hit the market until at least 2020, Terhorst explained. “We are also looking into new herbicide solutions as well as technology that would [help farmers] use less water [in growing their crops].”
The Sabana Grande facility, which has operated for the last 13 years, will continue to serve as a nursery for soybean seeds and crops that are resistant to weeds and pests. The overhaul on the 59-acre lot, which includes two buildings of more than 20,000 square feet, cost around $7.6 million. “[The facility] remains a cornerstone in our breeding activities and is focused more on the short term.” Terhorst said. “It [will help us] accelerate the process to develop new varieties to go into the market, and which would benefit our farmers within the next two to four years.”
Both facilities will generate about 45 permanent, full-time jobs of the highly skilled variety, mostly agronomists and biologists, and split between 25 in Guánica and 20 in Sabana Grande. About 100 more jobs are expected to be generated on a seasonal basis, the Bayer exec noted.
Various local government officials were on hand for the inauguration of both facilities, among them Department of Agriculture Secretary Myrna Comas and José Iguina, life sciences director of the Puerto Rico Industrial Company. The new R&D centers are part of the company’s $1 billion investment carried out in the U.S. from 2013 to 2016.
When asked about Bayer AG’s recent proposal to acquire Monsanto Co. for $66 billion—a transaction that is currently awaiting regulatory approval—Terhorst said the firm was “very excited about the agreement with Monsanto, [as] it would bring new opportunities to the agricultural sector,” adding that it was too early to tell what the proposed merger would mean for any particular region.
Monsanto, the world’s biggest manufacturer of seeds and a frequent target of criticism by environmental activists due to its role in genetically modified organisms, operates two facilities in Puerto Rico, one in Isabela and the other in Juana Díaz.
As to any potential blowback from environmental groups that may oppose Bayer’s new facilities on the island, Terhorst said the company was “more than willing” to sit down with said groups. “Bayer has a long history of working openly and with a lot of transparency,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to engage more actively with those and are very committed to do so not only globally but also in Puerto Rico.”