Nearly 10 billion people will inhabit the earth by 2050, and feeding the multitudes will require almost a doubling of current food production.

“We believe that comes through technology and innovation,” says Casey Allen, a spokesman for Bayer Corp.’s Crop Science division, headquartered in Research Triangle Park (RTP).

To achieve those food gains will require a next generation of people who understand food production, are scientifically literate and have skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Allen says.

That’s why Bayer hosted more than 160 fifth graders and high school students from central North Carolina last week in RTP. The students toured facilities, talked with Bayer staff and participated in hands-on exercises demonstrating how new crop seeds and ag chemicals move from an idea in someone’s mind to a product used in a farmer’s field.

The take-away message, says Allen: “We need young people like you engaged in this industry.”

Last Wednesday Bayer hosted about 50 high school students for the company’s third annual NxGen Ag event. In a simulation exercise, teams of students proposed new ag products and then presented their ideas to a board of Bayer staff, who picked the most feasible product.

“It models the product-development cycle,” Allen says. “Here’s the product you should take to market, and why.”

Students from the Cary High School FFA chapter consult with Bayer employees to decide their fate in the Nx Gen Ag exercise, a decision-based product development and marketing simulation designed to give them a better understanding of what it takes to bring a new agricultural technology to market.

The exercise is “a really nice opportunity for these kids,” he says. “They get to understand what it takes to bring a new agricultural product to market.”

The students also learned about the many career paths available in ag biotechnology such as genetics, chemistry, environmental science, government affairs and marketing.

“We try to expose them to all of those opportunities,” Allen says. “It’s not just about driving tractors and planting corn.”

Bayer experts on hand to answer students’ questions included a greenhouse scientist, regulatory specialist, compliance specialist, global registration manager and chemist.

Schools represented were Northern High School in Durham, Beddingfield High School in Wilson, Knightdale High School, Cary High School and City of Medicine Academy in Durham.

To end the week, Bayer hosted 110 fifth graders from Person County’s Helena Elementary School for a program called Making Science Make Sense. Now in its 21st year, the nationwide program engages about 3,000 students every year in interactive, inquiry-based learning experiences intended to make science fun and open possibilities for future careers in STEM fields.

The students toured Bayer’s research facilities and participated in five separate STEM-related activities, learning about the product-development cycle for new agriculture technologies, the regulatory environment, testing requirements and R&D expenditures. They also learned the different jobs and responsibilities related to these processes.

Making Science Make Sense has been honored with numerous awards, including the North Carolina Governor’s Business Partnership Award and two presidential accolades – the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership and the President’s Service Award.

Bayer announced last September a five-year commitment to provide 1 million hands-on science learning experiences for children by 2020.

The announcement came after a 2015 Bayer survey revealed that teachers and parents agreed that more hands-on, experiential learning is needed to improve science education for future generations.

In keeping with that mission, Bayer has again stepped up to be a sponsor of this summer’s NCBiotech ag biotech Industry in the Classroom teacher workshops, along with BASF. It reinforces the company’s full-circle commitment to education in NC: in this case, the students, and in the summer workshops, teaching the teachers.

Concurrently, Bayer is hosting its Making Science Make Sense Teacher Workshop on its RTP campus. That July event will be an all-day workshop to show elementary teachers how to do the Making Science Make Sense experiments in their own classrooms, and also to send them home with the materials to conduct those experiments.

Bayer, headquartered in Leverkusen, Germany, is a global life science company focused on health care and agriculture.

The company’s Crop Science division has about 700 employees in RTP and another 300 at satellite sites in Clayton, Morrisville and Pikeville. The division has been on a major growth binge lately, making capital investments in RTP totaling about $150 million since 2012.

New facilities include greenhouses, a renovated office complex and a North American Bee Care Center that supports product stewardship, sustainable agricultural and comprehensive solutions for honey bee health.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center