Fighting Hunger

Heiko Rieck synthesizes substances for use in fungicides. They protect fruit, vegetables, cereals and potatoes from fungi.


Saturday is market day for Heiko Rieck. He looks forward to it all week long. Whenever he walks past the stalls, it’s a feast for the senses. And he knows that he will be just as happy after he’s made his purchases.

The fruit and vegetables he buys are the ingredients for the delicious meal he will enjoy later in the day with his family and friends. “Here, smell this! Only a really ripe mango smells like this,” says the avid amateur cook as he holds out the green fruit for inspection. And just like that, he has moved on to the next stall.Rieck closes his eyes, takes another sniff, squeezes a papaya almost tenderly, looks it over again carefully and then purchases the fruit.

He knows what he wants – and not just at the market. Heiko Rieck was ten years old when he discovered his passion for cooking. Today he is 44 – and he doesn’t just cook in his free time. Rieck studied in Heidelberg, Montpellier and Stanford, and “cooking” also features prominently when he describes his work at Bayer CropScience. “We use that term when we synthesize substances in the laboratory,” he says with a laugh.

At the market with Dr. Heiko Rieck

The substances that Heiko Rieck has synthesized there together with his colleagues since 1998 are developed into products that are important for Bayer: fungicides. They protect fruit, vegetables, cereals and potatoes from fungi. Sometimes a single fungus spore is sufficient to infect a plant. The spores attack roots, stems, blossoms or incipient fruit, and thus cause diseases that can significantly impair harvest yields or quality.

By the time the fungus becomes visible as a gray-brown or sometimes white layer on shoots and leaves, fruit growers or farmers can be certain that they have a real problem that can even extend to the fruit itself. Once the fruit is infected, it will not reach the consumer in flawless condition, but rather will spoil already on the way to the market or supermarket. “This leads to tremendous losses every year,” says Rieck.

Depending on the type of infestation, crop and country, these losses can amount to a high double-digit percentage. Experts say that around one third of harvested produce is discarded because it spoils prior to consumption. If no fungicides were used at all, the area under cultivation would have to be increased by 10 percent to achieve the same harvest yield. But where would this additional land area come from? The per capita area of land under cultivation for food production is already steadily declining.

Research for the well-being of plants

Rieck and his colleagues therefore focus on developing new solutions to deal with plant diseases. And their efforts have been very successful. The most recent example is Luna™. The new active ingredient in Luna™ prevents the development of botrytis blight (gray mold rot) or powdery mildew by specifically penetrating all the way into the mitochondria of the fungal cells. These “power plants” usually convert sugar into energy and thus keep the cells alive. The active substance blocks an important enzyme in the energy production and cell metabolism processes.

As a result, fruit is completely protected until the harvest and can then be stored without any concerns. “We have successfully tested our new botrytis and mildew product in more than 70 crops worldwide – including grapes, peaches, and apples, as well as other fruits from the specialty crops category, such as raspberries,” says Product Manager Dominique Steiger. Furthermore, Luna™ has proven to be of tremendous value in tests with tomatoes, oilseed rape/canola and even cut flowers.

New fungicides: inhibiting the respiration chain

When Rieck strolls through the market, does he sometimes consider that the healthy fruits have him and his colleagues to thank for their vitality? “Yes, sometimes,” he says with another smile. “I am indeed a bit proud, as well as happy that our developments help to provide consumers with healthy, high-quality fruit and vegetables.” That’s why he will continue to look for new recipes in the future, because cooking – in all forms – just makes him happy.

Liam Condon

We must breathe life into a new agricultural revolution. On behalf of both humanity and the planet. Not just today, but tomorrow as well.

Five-point plan

“Our planet has reached its ecological limits,” says Liam Condon. The Bayer CropScience CEO is therefore certain: “We must make better use of the available land.” And this quite simply necessitates “new ideas.”

That in turn is the very purpose of the five-point plan developed by Bayer CropScience: a holistic approach to promote a new revolution in agriculture. The company thus is continuing the “green revolution” of the 1960s. Back then, the industry achieved a tremendous expansion in agricultural production through increased use of crop protection products and fertilizer.

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Other measures are needed today. New ideas are required that Bayer CropScience has spelled out in five points. Point 1 involves targeted investment in agricultural innovations so as to address the central challenges in the agricultural industry with new solutions. Explains Condon: “It is crucial that we pursue all available research approaches so as to safeguard the world’s food supply over the long term.”

Point 2 involves efforts to support farmers worldwide through access to technologies, know-how and training. With the “Model Village Project,” for example, Bayer CropScience is helping small farmers in India to become independent entrepreneurs. This assistance will also improve living conditions in Indian villages in the future.

The sustainable expansion of agricultural productivity is established in Point 3. Condon appeals to agricultural scientists to focus more closely on intelligent, climate-friendly solutions for agriculture than has been the case in the past. Such solutions already exist to some extent. One example is rice cultivation, where Bayer CropScience has developed comprehensive solutions such as hybrid seed, new crop protection products and technologies, and training measures.

How plants survive periods of drought

One third of all children worldwide have developmental problems due to malnutrition. Point 4 of the plan for the future explains how to address this deficiency: by promoting human health through something known as biofortification. This specialist term describes the improved uptake by plants of nutrients such as zinc, iron and iodine. Bayer CropScience is already working together with organizations such as Harvest Plus in this very field. The joint objective is to improve the nutritional value of plants.

The last step in the five-point plan deals with the expansion of international cooperation between players in politics and industry. According to Condon, the partners should focus together on the aspect of practical implementation. It would then be the task of the private sector to continue investing in science, products and services. It would thus help to safeguard food supplies and improve rural development. At the same time, Condon says, there are challenges such as a lack of education, political and economic instability, poor infrastructure and uncertain framework conditions. Many participants in the process must work together to solve these challenges, he says.