Following $10 billion Roundup settlement, Bayer uses climate program as front to lock in control of farmer data and sell more Roundup
On the heels of the massive $10 billion proposed lawsuit settlement for more than 95,000 people alleging Bayer’s weed-killer Roundup© caused their cancer, Bayer announced a new program, the Bayer Carbon Initiative, which would pay farmers to sequester carbon in their soil. While this may appear to be a good-faith PR move to bolster the megacorporation’s poor reputation, the Bayer Carbon Initiative is just another attempt to sell more toxic products, monetize farmer data and maintain control of our food system.
Digital agriculture can be broadly defined as the use of mass amounts of data to influence decision-making on farms. Bayer’s data arm, The Climate Corporation, runs Climate FieldView™, a one-stop-shop for digital products — from satellite imagery to farm management tools.
Products like Climate FieldView™ have been rapidly expanding in the market thanks to aggressive, anti-competitive practices. Over the past few years, small-to-medium size agriculture retailers have come to rely more and more on rebates to turn a profit. In practical terms, this means pushing specific products to hit the minimum levels of sales dictated by the company offering the rebate. CropLife Magazine reported that retailers were having so much trouble reaching the minimum sales figures for Climate FieldView™ that they resorted to giving it away for free. Thanks to Bayer’s rebates, retailers were practically throwing the paid version of the platform at farmers. Now, Bayer is collecting enormous amounts of data on over 120 million acresof farmland, raising privacy and competition concerns.
One of the largest questions surrounding digital agriculture has been how to make it profitable. Bayer seems to think leveraging the climate crisis is the answer.
To participate in the Bayer Carbon Initiative, farmers must enroll in the company’s main digital agriculture platform, Climate FieldView™, and implement certain practices — dictated by Bayer — to receive compensation. From there, Bayer claims that Climate FieldView™ can not only provide guidance on how to draw more carbon into the soil but can also measure the carbon sequestered and pay farmers appropriately.
However, Bayer’s definition of “climate-smart” agriculture is based almost entirely on the use of its patented seeds and toxic pesticides. One of the key tenets pushed by Bayer’s pilot program is no-till agriculture. The lynchpin to Bayer’s proposed no-till system is none other than glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp™, and the company’s patented GMO seeds engineered to tolerate this and other toxic weed-killers. On top of public health concerns, pesticides like glyphosate are known to harm soil health in ways that may disrupt carbon sequestration.
One of the simplest ways for digital agriculture platforms to turn a profit is to promote the chemicals made by the same company. Platforms like Climate FieldView™ cut out the middleman — farmers are getting their advice (via algorithm) from the same companies making the inputs. This presents a clear conflict of interest.
The Bayer Carbon Initiative is no different. If Bayer is going to tell farmers how to perform no-till to pay out for sequestered carbon, that means it will tell farmers to spray glyphosate, thereby improving sales in the process. Even worse, according to Reuters, Bayer may pay farmers in the form of credits to be redeemed in the Bayer PLUS Rewards Platform — credits that are most efficiently spent on more Bayer products.
In other words, the reward for spraying glyphosate is credits to buy more glyphosate.
Bayer is doubling down on this concept. Back in June, Bayer endorsed the Growing Climate Solutions Act. This bill would direct the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a “one-stop-shop” for farmers to learn about and participate in carbon markets like the system Bayer is creating. The bill would certify “Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Providers” to play the role of telling farmers how to sequester carbon and create “credits” to sell polluters as offsets.
The timing of Bayer’s pilot program and endorsement of the Growing Climate Solutions Act is conspicuous. Should the bill pass, Bayer would be poised to receive a stamp of approval from the USDA and farmers might be pushed to enroll in Climate FieldView™. Few things would drive a bump in Climate FieldView™ enrollment like an endorsement from the federal government.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, carbon markets have repeatedly failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in many cases have worsened pollution in low-income communities and communities of color around the world. They have even facilitated human rights abuses worldwide. They also have not worked for farmers. In 2010, the Chicago Climate Exchange closed due to a lack of demand — farmers, ranchers, and others were generating carbon credits, but not enough polluters were buying them
The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a false promise to farmers and a failure on climate; companies like Bayer are showing exactly how they would make money off these schemes.
In many ways, digital agriculture is the next major driver of agricultural consolidation. With more data comes more power, and the Bayer Carbon Initiative is just one example of how this data can be leveraged to compel thousands of farmers farm in ways that enrich certain companies.
A seed and agrichemical giant collecting and monetizing data from hundreds of millions of acres of farmland is concerning in and of itself. Using that data under the guise of fighting the climate crisis to lock in its market power and sell more Roundup™ is a treacherous marketing scheme.
Congress should reject calls to endorse this kind of behavior, implement tangible data privacy protections for farmers and take meaningful steps to halt and reverse consolidation in our food system and to support farmers to transition to regenerative agriculture. Bills such as Senator Booker’s Climate Stewardship Act and Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act, and Representative Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act would be far more productive. Farmers can be a part of the climate solution, but not with major corporations in the driver’s seat.