Fruit Today euromagazine interviewed Guillaume Lacarriere, Commercial Lead from the Vegetable Department of Monsanto Iberica (Spain and Portugal)
After the ‘yes’ from the European Commission to the purchase of Monsanto by Bayer for 54,400 million euros on the 23rd of March, the United States gave its blessing to the operation that will form the largest agrochemical giant in the world on the 29th of May. There were many questions set forth by this operation, mainly on the subject of competition; therefore, the authorities set a premise: Bayer must dispose of assets for an amount of 9,000 million dollars in the agrochemical business. What would happen next? We asked Guillaume Lacarriere, Commercial Lead from the Vegetable department of Monsanto Iberica, a few weeks before the United States federal competition authorities gave the go-ahead to this Bayer-Monsanto macro-operation. Finally, the purchase was closed on Thursday, the 7th of June, and the specific integration of Monsanto will start “in around two months’ time”.
How is the purchase of Monsanto by Bayer affecting and how will it affect the Vegetable Department of Monsanto? Since Bayer is selling its seed business, will you remain at the head of the new group in this segment?
Indeed, Bayer will keep Monsanto’s vegetable crop business. Our efforts and our focus have always centred on the customer, taking both the farmers and the end consumers into consideration, and this will continue to give value to the business.
The scientist José Miguel Mulet affirms that the EU “was an important power in agricultural biotechnology”, but was brought to a halt by the anti-transgenic regulations, with the paradox that they are banned in Europe, but are imported from the USA. Why do you think that transgenic farming continues to be demonised? The name of your company, Monsanto, has been linked to transgenic modifications for many years and this image has not been very positive…
Unfortunately, plant biotechnology has been considered in the EU from an ideological and political point of view, undermining the role of science. This has caused the lack of a reliable legal framework and this makes technological development more difficult, both private and state-sponsored. The result is that European farmers are losing their competitiveness vis-à-vis other areas in the world, which have more technological tools at their disposal.
Talking about technology, it seems that a promising future is being outlined with the genomic edition of CRISPR-Cas9. Have you acquired it? What advantages or disadvantages do you see for it?
Innovation in improved genetics continues to move forward and the edition of genes, such as the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, is an example of this. This technology will help the breeders to integrate the desired characteristics in the crop seeds with an efficiency and accuracy never seen before, offering new solutions for farmers and for modern agricultural practices. For example, it can be used to disable an unfavourable characteristic such as the vulnerability to a disease, or enable a beneficial characteristic, such as tolerance to drought. At Monsanto, we have reached licensing agreements for this technology with different companies and research centres, aimed at being able to pass on the benefits of this technology to the farmers through our seeds.
There are great challenges ahead such as the drought, the increase in the world population, the changes in consumer habits, the increase in demand for bio produce… are they also important lines in your R&D?
Indeed. We know that the world population will grow by over 32% in the 35 years before 2050 and by over 53% by the end of the century, and we need to produce more, in a sustainable way, in order for accessible food to be within the reach of this growing population. Additionally, there are developing countries where a greater variety of products is being demanded. At the same time as export, we are also considering the development of the local market that has been occurring in recent years and that it demands greater sustainability for its production. The drought has affected us a great deal this year and for this reason we are looking for varieties that need less water and that have stronger plants. All of this forms part of our current research.
In recent years new varieties have been launched that bring value to the chain such as the Zirconyta cherry tomato, the Super root nonstop cucumber range and even a new line of broccoli. What will be the next thing we will see?
We are always looking for solutions alongside our customer, the farmer and also attempting to understand what the consumer wants, because in the end it is the consumer who decides. Our investments are focused mainly on tomatoes and rootstock, a segment where we are strong within the market. Varieties such as Zirconyta have allowed us to stand out in cherry tomatoes again, because it responds very well to what the entire chain needs. We have great hopes deposited in this tasty variety. We have also invested a great deal in peppers, a product where we have a good market share with our Lamuyo and California varieties.
In general, where is the tomato market going?
The market wants flavour, flavour, flavour. But in the end, we need something that combines flavour, resistance, production, shelf life… 20 or 25 years ago they started asking for more typologies and now we are observing that farmers are looking to reduce the offer. It doesn’t mean that from one year to the next there will be fewer varieties, just that they are specialising more on a specific produce to be able to differentiate themselves and they want to concentrate on one or two types of good quality tomato. The consumer, on the other hand, wants a type of tomato for each type of consumption and here the cultural aspect plays an important role. In Spain, green tomatoes are eaten in salads, but in France or Holland, for example, they don’t even exist.
In February, you held the event ‘Iberica Younited’ to show customers your road map in R&D, what did you show them?
With ‘Iberica Younited’ we opened the doors to our R&D ‘kitchen’, something that we had never done quite so openly before. We showed them everything that our breeders and geneticists do in the laboratories and some interesting conversations arose from this. They gave us many ideas for new developments.
Could you give me an example of this?
They are concerned about anything that might come from outside, new viruses and races, as production is growing in other regions… they also proposed collaborations to develop new varieties or concepts in flavour. Several interesting projects arose that will be available in the future.