Bayer dismisses antitrust concerns about digital farming

MONHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Bayer BAYGn.DE said it was unable to propose the sale of any digital farming assets to allay EU concerns about its planned $66 billion takeover of Monsanto MON.N.

The European Commission last month started an in-depth investigation into the German group’s plan to acquire the U.S. seeds maker.

Among its concerns, the regulator took issue with Bayer’s plan to create combined offerings of seeds and pesticides with the help of new digital farming tools, such as connected sensors, software and precision machines.

“I fail to see what kind of a remedy there would be in this space. It’s extremely hypothetical in terms of where the overlap actually is,” the head of Bayer’s Crop Science division, Liam Condon, told Reuters on Tuesday, following a press conference on the business.

“If it’s considered that is an issue and a remedy is required then we have to discuss what the remedy is. I just don’t have the imagination what that could be.”

Condon said Bayer’s approach in digital farming was currently to control plant pests while Monsanto’s focus was on improving yields. The entire industry was still years away from a more universal business model, he added.

Bayer has pledged that any future software platform coming from its labs would not per se exclude rivals’ seeds and crop protection products.

Analysts, however, say that many in the industry were working on future business models that will lure farmers with a type of money-back guarantee if a digital farming package, complete with predefined seeds and chemicals, does not yield certain harvest levels.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Christoph Steitz and Susan Fenton