National Farmers’ Federation’s National Congress 2018 has some serious star power, including the Head of Research and Development for Bayer Crop Science, Dr Robert (Bob) Reiter.
Based in Monheim, Germany, Mr Reiter oversees Bayer’s crop science research and development pipeline. He leads thousands of scientists in the creation of world-class sustainable agricultural solutions with the goal of helping farmers grow safe and affordable food, while at the same time, protecting the planet.
Mr Reiter spoke to AustralianFarmers about his career and what to expect at this year’s National Congress.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your profession.
First and foremost, I’m a scientist. I studied plant breeding and plant genetics in graduate school, and have been blessed with a very interesting and fulfilling 30 years in the ag industry.
Prior to the Bayer acquisition (Bayer recently acquired Monsanto), I spent 20 years at Monsanto, where I led different parts of Bayer’s research and development (R&D) as we worked on identifying and advancing new plant breeding technologies and biotech seed traits.
Now I’ve been given the opportunity to lead R&D efforts for Bayer Crop Science, which is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. I think the combined brainpower and experience of these two incredible research teams is going to deliver huge breakthrough products for our farmer customers.
So now my role is really to help our people dream big and take risks to solve big problems – because that’s where innovation truly happens.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in plant breeding and genetics?
I didn’t grow up saying “I want to be a molecular biologist,”. However, I should have realised I was going to be a scientist back when I was about 12. I chose to do a science fair project that visually illustrated all 30 steps of the cellular respiratory process using Styrofoam and toothpicks. I’m not sure that many kids my age would have enjoyed that as much as I did!
I’ve just always had a strong desire to figure out how things work, and that’s what science is about.
I also developed a passion for gardening and greenhouses during my teenage years, so it’s pretty cool that I ended up in a career that combines all those interests.
Over the years, I’d say my love of science itself has really evolved into a passion for “science with a purpose.” I don’t want to do research just for the sake of doing research. What inspires me most today is using science to solve real problems that make people’s lives better.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
When I joined Monsanto in 1998, I was charged with establishing and leading our first molecular breeding site in Ankeny, Iowa – everything from acquiring the facility and hiring teams to setting up labs and helping to drive the convergence of plant breeding with molecular biology.
I witnessed firsthand how these two areas of science came together to form this exciting new thing called “molecular breeding.” It wasn’t something the plant breeders were particularly enthusiastic about at first, but we kept driving the transformation.
In the end, it not only improved the way we do plant breeding, but also resulted in breakthrough products that have helped solve unmet challenges in agriculture and have been delivering benefits to farmers around the world for well over a decade. For me, it was one of those projects that really helps shape who you are and what you believe you can achieve.
Science can solve big problems and change lives – but behind every amazing scientific advance is a team of amazing people. I’m looking forward to all the great work we can do #AdvancingTogether at @Bayer4Crops. https://t.co/60bEFRCnn3 pic.twitter.com/8QBwW2ouYp
— Bob Reiter (@bobsreiter) August 23, 2018
Q: What is the scope of impact of your work?
Our world faces enormous challenges including a growing population; limited natural resources and a changing climate that is already contributing to extreme weather events like record temperatures and low rainfall, as Australia knows all too well. As a result, farmers are facing evolving pests, weeds and diseases and managing the effects of abiotic stress. They are demanding innovative solutions – tailored to the specific needs of their farm, their crops and their soil – so they can grow food successfully, safely and sustainably.
With the integration of Bayer and Monsanto, there has never been an R&D organisation better equipped to develop and deliver these innovations to our customers who, in turn, will feed billions of consumers around the world.
So, I guess you could say our scope of impact is potentially everyone, everywhere. But, no matter how amazing our product pipeline is or what we’ve accomplished in the past, we also know that we have to earn trust from our customers and consumers as we advance together. Without that trust, even the greatest invention may never get the chance to make a meaningful difference.
Q: What can the guests at NFF’s National Congress expect from you as a speaker?
I’d say they can expect intense passion about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for agriculture, specifically here, and how I believe it will take both diversification and collaboration to solve those challenges.
We are living in an age of accelerated innovation, made possible by major advances in biological, chemical and data technologies. It’s the interface of all three that will take us to the next frontier of scientific discovery. I look forward to sharing my vision of how we can deliver the technology that’s needed to help growers in Australia and around the world, while enabling more choice for consumers to help them and our planet thrive.
For more information and National Congress 2018 registrations click here.