SODA SPRINGS — In the near term, officials say little should change at the Caribou County Monsanto facilities — aside from the name on signs — as a result of the company’s ongoing integration into the Bayer Group.
Bayer, based in Monheim am Rhein, Germany, assumed ownership of St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. on June 7. However, the U.S. Department of Justice mandated that the companies continue operating separately, until Bayer could divest itself of duplicative crop science businesses and assets.
The DOJ’s intent was to prevent the combined company from having too strong of a position in the agricultural marketplace.
Bayer finished meeting the DOJ’s divestiture requirements after selling its global vegetable seeds business, which operates under the Nunhems brand, to the German chemical company BASF for nearly $2.56 billion, according to a BASF press release.
In Idaho, Nunhems has a location in Parma. The sale of Nunhems enabled Bayer to acquire Seminis Vegetable Seeds, which was owned by Monsanto and has operations in Payette, Filer and Nampa.
As of Aug. 21, Bayer no longer had any operational control of the seed business, opening the door for Monsanto to begin integrating into Bayer.
The majority of the elemental phosphorus used in manufacturing Monsanto’s flagship herbicide, Roundup, is mined at the Blackfoot Bridge Mine in Caribou County and chemically separated at a Soda Springs refining plant, explained company spokesman Trent Clark.
“Bayer is a very trusted brand, widely known and widely respected. I’ve seen surveys that rank Bayer among the fourth or fifth most respected companies on Earth,” Clark said. “It’s an organization with deep roots, and I think it’s safe to say the former Monsanto employees who are now part of that organization feel welcomed into the organization, and there is a great deal of stability to be part of such a prominent leader in science and technology like Bayer.”
Clark said a consultant hired by Bayer has taken an inventory of Monsanto signs at the Soda Springs plant that will be replaced with the Bayer name, as part of a nationwide effort. Clark said the change shouldn’t affect staffing in Idaho, where the company has employed 400 workers and 400 related contractors at the Soda Springs plant and 200 workers and contractors at its other state facilities.
Though daily operations haven’t changed at the former Monsanto facilities in Caribou County, Clark said Bayer brings new “overarching values and guiding principles” that could affect policies in the coming years. For example, he said Bayer has emphasized sustainability in its operations, as well as a commitment to “good science.”
Clark said Bayer chose to sell its own herbicide products line, called Liberty, to meet DOJ divestment requirements for assuming ownership of the Roundup brand.
“They were very interested in purchasing Roundup for Roundup being one of the most benign herbicides for the environment,” Clark said.
The integration also enables Bayer’s team of lawyers to become involved in a California case in which a jury awarded $289 million on Aug. 10 to a former groundskeeper who alleged Roundup had given him terminal cancer. In a press release, Bayer predicted the case will proceed, and courts will find that Monsanto and the active ingredient in Roundup, called glyphosate, weren’t responsible for Johnson’s cancer.
Further, while Monsanto had access to about a dozen medical doctors to offer expertise on issues such as product safety, Clark said Bayer brings access to more than 1,000 medical professionals.
Bayer’s global workforce of about 100,000 is roughly five times larger than Monsanto’s workforce.
Clark said Bayer made two prior attempts to purchase Monsanto before the Monsanto board of directors ultimately accepted the third offer about two years ago. Since then, the companies have been working to obtain approval for their integration from regulatory agencies of countries throughout the world.
The Blackfoot Bridge Mine has enough ore remaining to supply the Soda Springs phosphorus plant until after 2022. A draft environmental impact statement for the replacement mine, which will be called Caldwell Canyon, will be available for public comment within the next couple of months, Clark said.