CEAT: A Collaborative Platform ModelBrazil, for its continental dimensions and climate and soil characteristics, is one of the greatest showcase of agriculture in the tropics, and it was the country Bayer chose for the Expertise Center for Tropical Agriculture (CEAT), which celebrated its first anniversary in late 2016. Dirceu Ferreira Jr., the head of the CEAT, talks about the work being done at the center, which is focused on collaboration with outside researchers and the pursuit of local solutions that can be replicated in other tropical regions.
How did the idea of creating the CEAT come up?
Dirceu Ferreira Jr. - With so many challenges in tropical agriculture, the need for external collaborations, whether with foundations, research institutions or universities, became increasingly clear, because Bayer does not have the answer for everything alone. Hence came the CEAT, to work in a collaborative platform model, establishing public-private partnerships focused on integrated solutions for tropical agriculture and its production systems. The CEAT was created to look to the future and anticipate trends.
Is the idea to be one step ahead to avoid future issues in tropical agriculture?
DFJ - Yes, for sure. If five years before Asian soybean rust appeared in Brazil we had known that it could put global soybean production in check, because the country is a major global supplier, we might have had fewer losses. It is estimated that the average cost for controlling rust in Brazil add up to $2.5 billion per harvest. Anticipating changes in the behavior of a disease, of a weed or a pest can also prevent outbreaks such as that of the Helicoverpa caterpillar, which four years ago ruined soybean and cotton plantations in Brazil.
But what is the scope of the CEAT? Is it a concept that only involves Brazil or does it involve other tropical regions too?
DFJ - The solutions the CEAT develops are for the tropical conditions of Brazil and Latin America. The work begins in Brazil; however, the technologies that are developed may be applied in different Latin American countries. We operate with a view to broad acre crops, such as soybeans and corn, and production systems in regions where it is possible to have more than one harvest per year.
With these attributes in mind, how is the CEAT structured?
DFJ - CEAT is housed at Bayer’s former Center for Research and Innovation in Paulínia, São Paulo, where we opened new laboratories. The FHI laboratory conducts analyses to determine and map the resistance of pathogens, weeds, and insects to existing control mechanisms. Meanwhile, at the Application Technology Center (ATC), Bayer’s only application technology center outside Germany, we simulate field conditions and have held several training sessions aimed at adopting the best technologies, such as spray nozzles and bars, as well as protective equipment for operators, sometimes in tune with our digital farming services.
Insofar as the research being done at the CEAT, what are the highlights?
DFJ - We have two important studies going on with EMBRAPA, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. The first concerns pollinator behavior, and to what extent insecticide applications can be harmful to them in a tropical region. The second seeks to obtain the genome of the fungus that causes Asian soybean rust to understand this fungus’ resistance or susceptibility mechanism to the chemical groups currently in use. We also have a very disruptive project going on with the São Carlos Institute of Physics involving nanosensors for the detection of nematodes in the field.
With this kind of work, the CEAT builds a bridge between the R&D areas at Bayer and the scientific community linked to tropical agriculture. Why is this important?
DFJ - For several reasons, but mostly because this way you can gather more knowledge and translate it into a competitive advantage for the farmer. The CEAT is responsible for Bayer Academy of Innovation’s relationship, which for four years has been bringing together renowned researchers from Brazil. Annually and by sector, they hold meetings with Bayer’s R&D group to discuss the challenges of agriculture in Brazil, and this has brought very significant results, academia helps with an integral part of the solutions we bring to the market.
Head of Bayer’s Expertise Center for Tropical Agriculture (CEAT)