Bayer AG is purchasing strawberry assets from a plant science research company based in the U.K., expanding its fruits and vegetables business.
The National Institute of Agricultural Botany’s Strawberry Breeding Programme in Kent allows Bayer’s crop science division to develop a broader range of genetics and crop protection solutions for specialty growers, the biotech giant said last week.
Bayer has plans to make its strawberry innovations available beyond the U.K. to meet soaring global demand for the fruit. The acquisition is expected to close by the start of 2024. Financial details were not disclosed.
Strawberries make up close to a quarter of fresh fruit sales, and Bayer is getting into the market as producers experiment with ways to grow year-round.
“With Bayer entering the strawberry market, we will offer growers premium genetics combined with innovative crop protection products and digital solutions,” Inci Dannenberg, head of Bayer’s vegetables business, said in a statement. “The addition of strawberries to Bayer’s portfolio is a natural progression that many of our customers are making as well.”
Strawberries are fast-growing crops, bearing fruits as soon as three months after they are planted. To meet increasing demand for “out of season” strawberries, growers are working to extend their production and marketing seasons in the spring and autumn, according to the U.K.’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
An alternative to traditional outdoor row systems is growing protected strawberries in glasshouses or polytunnels using peat bags. This method can reduce the risk of soil-borne illness and water use, but also can be more costly and tedious, according to the U.K. farm agency.
By moving to protected cropping, Bayer said growers will have more control over their environment, crop management, pests and disease, and will see clear benefits in fruit quality as a result. Plants grown under protection also use less water and tend to have a longer shelf life because they are located closer to consumers.
“We have built a strong foundation in precision breeding capabilities and look forward to bringing these approaches into strawberries,” JD Rossouw, head of vegetables research and development at Bayer’s crop science division, said in a statement. “Using these techniques will enable us to continue to advance on the foundation set by NIAB and deliver superior strawberries to our growers and the value chain.”
NIAB’s strawberry breeding program has operated for more than 40 years at East Malling Research Station in Kent, and has long been known for its horticulture innovations.