Safety is paramount in any industry, and agriculture is no different. The protection of input manufacturers, growers and workers on the farm, value chain partners, as well as consumers is absolutely essential, as is the preservation of the environment. In agriculture, we refer to the responsible and ethical management of a product throughout its lifecycle—from invention through ultimate use and finally discontinuation/disposal —as Product Stewardship.
Proper Product Stewardship practices are central to ensuring the availability of high-quality products, services and best practices by promoting compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, helping facilitate trade, maximizing product potential and sustainability, and minimizing risks to people and the environment.
The importance of empty container management
“Wherever pesticides are used, empty containers are generated...It’s an ongoing problem; one that poses a serious threat to the environment and public health.”
--Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
The main environmental and human safety concerns related to crop protection containers, include:
- Plastic waste in the environment
- Unsafe disposal options (e.g. on-site incineration)
- Remnants ending up in water sources
- Reuse of containers for water or food
- Misuse of empty containers (e.g. for playing)
Safe use training and container management
Our product responsibility efforts span the value chain—from the research, development and testing of products, to their production and delivery to growers, to their application and disposal.
When working with growers and the value chain, our Product Responsibility efforts focus on trainings on the safe use of crop protection products. To do so, we leverage new technologies and services of handling, applying and disposing of crop protection products; and also promote responsible empty container management systems, especially in countries with less regulated waste management systems.
To live up to our commitment to promote the safe use of crop protection products and tools, we are:
- Holding in-person dedicated safe-use trainings, embedded trainings (e.g. as part of product launches) and joint trainings with other partners.
- Investing in the preparation of quality digital trainings and ongoing e-learning so safe use know-how is available to anyone with an internet connection, e.g.:
- During the height of the COVID-19 epidemic in China, between February and April 2020, live online safe use training that reached more than 170,000 farmers, when in-person trainings were not possible for health reasons.
- Disseminating the “Safe Use” message and taking a “train the trainer” approach to multiply our efforts and reach.
- Promoting new ways of applying crop protection such as drones.
- Demonstrating safe use and proper empty container disposal via external platforms such as the Bayer ForwardFarming network, Safe Use Harbor in China, Bayer DressCode and the BayGAP training tool.
- Engaging in local waste management systems to reduce plastic being placed into the environment, in cooperation with CropLife International.
- Promoting the recycling of our packaging into recommended end uses such as plastic tubes, fence posts and cables.
- Coordinating the Safe Use Ambassador Program that partners with governments and universities to support students in reaching out to farmers to talk about the safe use of pesticides.
- Collaborating with our industry association CropLife International for safe use trainings and empty container management, particularly in driving the Professional Crop Protection Application project as a leader in this industry.
- Partnering with universities on the Safe Use Ambassador Program in the APAC region, which fosters the exchange of know-how on best practices in the use of crop protection products by bringing students and farmers together. With this we have reached 36 universities in 8 countries in 2020, with more than 10,000 students trained as certified Bayer Safe Use Ambassadors to date. These Ambassadors have in turn trained thousands of growers during their farm visits and internships.
The path ahead for product responsibility
As a key focus of our sustainability strategy, we will be enhancing our efforts in promoting product responsibility in all the regions we serve. In the past few years, we’ve already moved from an ad hoc approach to delivering safe use trainings towards a more targeted and coordinated approach that increases overall outreach.
In 2019, we confirmed over 1 million farmers trained in face-to-face trainings, and this number only includes formally confirmed trainings, the reach to additional farmers is expected to be much larger. We’re continuing efforts to safely hold as many in-person trainings as possible but are particularly ramping up our investment in virtual and digital training to increase our reach, while ensuring the quality of training. This is especially important during challenging times such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, when food security and safety are critical to the health of our society, and in-person trainings are more difficult to hold due to social distancing measures. Moreover, the ripple effect of trainings and virtual trainings has potential to have exponential reach.
We’ll especially focus our resources on countries which have less national regulation for safe product use, and particularly with smallholder famers.
Going forward we’ll continue to transparently report annually our progress on trainings and other initiatives that ensure the customers we serve have the necessary information to use our products safely and sustainably.
Product responsibility in practice on the Damianshof ForwardFarm
Located in Rommerskirchen, Germany, Bernd Olligs is the sixth generation of his family to own and operate the Damianshof farm, and he takes safe and sustainable use of crop protection seriously. “Water pollution control is resource protection,” states Bernd Olligs, and one of his top priorities is to systematically manage water protection on his farm to ensure absolutely no crop protection residues enter the water. To ensure that these residues do not enter the water system when meticulously cleaning his spraying equipment, Bernd uses an innovative biological system called Phytobac®. Installed on his farm in 2012, it collects water used to clean sprayers and makes use of microorganisms to biologically break down any residues found in the water.
At Damianshof, like on all Bayer ForwardFarms, using crop protection products responsibly doesn’t just apply for use in the fields. In order to guarantee the comprehensive protection of the farmer, as a user, and of the general public, as consumers, Bernd only uses seeds and crop protection products that have undergone comprehensive safety testing and registration. Further innovative solutions such as the closed filling system easyFlow® M protect the farmer from direct contact with crop protection products. The system facilitates the safe filling and dosing of crop protection products into the application tank as well as in the cleaning of empty canisters. It prevents drips or splashes, which is good both for the farmer and the environment.