The Key to Unlocking Agriculture’s Next Great Molecule

Setting a new Benchmark in Efficient, Safe and Sustainable Crop Protection

CropKey Key hole

Through recent advances in life science and artificial intelligence (AI), we can design entirely new crop protection molecules that reach unprecedented levels of precision, safety, sustainability, and efficacy. We call this new approach CropKey and it’s unlocking new ways for farmers to protect their crops, food security and our planet.

There’s a large global market for crop protection products. They’re a fundamental agricultural technology that promotes plant health and defends against yield-impacting threats to production. The net benefit of crop protection globally, as measured in yield gain, is about 30 percent. That means, collectively, that the usage of crop protection products protects enough food to feed 2 billion more people than would otherwise be possible every year.


As the market leader in crop protection, we have an extensive track-record of bringing solutions to farmers that help them control the threat of pests. Yet we know that in the long-term, an approach based on incremental innovation and traditional chemistry won’t be enough.


Farmers today aren’t “just” managing weeds, disease and insects. They’re also responding to pest resistance to the limited number of crop protection solutions available to them, to climate change and to societal expectations about the food we eat and the health of our planet.


In June 2023 we unveiled CropKey, a new approach to discovering and developing crop protection chemistry. CropKey leverages the most recent advances in the life sciences and data-driven technologies to unlock entirely new and long-awaited breakthroughs.

How do Crop Protection and CropKey essentially work?

All living organisms are made up of proteins – including those pests that damage crops: weeds, insect pests and diseases such as fungi. If we can change the activity or inhibit a certain protein in an organism, we can inhibit the pest damaging the crop. This is how crop protection fundamentally works. It’s also how many medicines function.


Today we have more scientific understanding about the makeup of living organisms and their complex biological processes in any given environment. Using AI and machine learning – the subset of AI that involves using algorithms to find patterns in data – we can identify the complex interdependencies between a theoretically unlimited number of organisms.


AI singles out unique proteins present in the make-up of the pest species faster and with greater accuracy than ever before. These unique proteins can be thought of as “locks.” The uniqueness allows us to be more precise in our research from the outset of the discovery process and helps to prevent unintended and off-target effects on the surrounding environment.


We then need to design the crop protection molecule or “key” to inhibit this unique protein, thus preventing the pest. In the past, our approach relied on physically assessing up to one million molecules from our own and external compound libraries, then testing on target pests and analyzing the visible effects. 


The CropKey approach starts with a conscious expert choice of molecular pathways with defined properties, including safety and sustainability criteria.  Then billions of hypothetical molecules are explored in virtual and exponentially larger chemical spaces, allowing us to find completely novel molecules with potential to become the next crop protection solution. 


The CropKey approach is leading to an unprecedented enrichment of our research pipeline. Today we have three times more new modes of action in early research than we did 10 years ago. And this is just the beginning. As our AI tools learn alongside us, every generation of solutions will be smarter and come faster.

Bayer's Position in the Market

Bayer is the leading name in herbicides, the second leading brand in fungicides, and third in insecticides. 


In fiscal year 2023, our crop protection sales reached over €11 billion. And we plan to launch around 100 new formulations in the next decade. We believe our crop protection pipeline will deliver over €11 billion of peak sales potential, half of which is incremental.

What We've Discovered So Far

Using this innovative approach, we’ve developed Icafolin, the first new mode of action for broadacre, post-emergent weed control in 30 years , which we expect to make available to farmers by the end of the decade, providing outstanding efficacy and a long-awaited solution to tackling herbicide  resistance.


We’re also working on a resistance-breaking fungicide for horticulture.

What does all this mean for farmers and our planet?

Crop protection solutions make it possible for farmers to adopt environmentally friendly practices like cover crops and reduced tillage, providing a way to remove unwanted vegetation without plowing the field. Tillage is known to emit CO2, degrade the soil, and contribute to erosion.


When used as part of an integrated system together with leading seeds and traits, biologicals, and in accordance with digital recommendations and precision application technology, our crop protection products empower growers to farm successfully while reducing the environmental impact of agriculture.