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Michael Schwarz: The Happy All-Rounder

Variety adds spice to his research life. Dr. Michael Schwarz enjoys the rewards of guiding a range of agricultural products from idea to market. Being skilled as an educator, he also shepherds young scientists along their professional paths.

My son recently asked me why I enjoy my work so much. I told him: because of the feeling of success that comes from the work. There’s nothing more rewarding than having an idea, doing the research to explore it, implementing the trials and then leading a team in guiding the product to market – and seeing it widely accepted. “Poncho,” the seed treatment I developed after I discovered its active molecule, was launched in 2003. This seed treatment protects the roots, stems and leaves of young corn, beet and soy plants from pests during the earliest stages of growth. Today, it’s amazing to see that farmers have used this product on up to 75 percent of US corn acres, for example.

There’s nothing more rewarding than having an idea, doing the research to explore it, implementing the trials and then leading a team in guiding the product to market – and seeing it widely accepted.

I marvel, “Hey, this is mine!”

In my 32 years at Bayer, I’ve worked on many different projects, which all have the same goal: Finding tools to protect crops from pests such as insects, fungi and nematodes. I’ve done it all over the years, screening fungicides and nematicides, developing seed treatments, working with biologics. I’m fascinated by my job because of the constant change. I focus on a problem, a specific corn pest maybe, solve it, and then move on to something entirely different. Currently, I’m involved in the development of horticultural herbicides, and in determining how our products perform in programs, or “Integrated Solutions”. We’re looking at a range of different available products and analyzing how they interact. In a next step, we evaluate the benefits of the products for the grower as far as yield, quality and return on investment. It’s an integrated approach, which is very different from other kinds of research.

Exploring the Fields on two Wheels

On trips back to my hometown in Wisconsin, I’m reminded of the importance of our work. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by dairy farms. Cattle grazed across the street. Today there are only subdivisions, malls and parking lots. It’s sad to have seen all of that beautiful farmland disappear. As we go into the future, we’ll need every aspect of modern agriculture to feed the world. The more we can produce on a small amount of land, the better.

I like to get outdoors – even for relaxation. I work in the yard and go hiking or backpacking with my sons. My passion is bicycling. The great thing about the climate here in North Carolina is that you can ride your bike year-round. I like bikes so much that I build my own and fix other people’s bikes. When colleagues have problems with theirs, I tell them to let me take a look. I can’t wait to get my hands on them. I’m always happy to help and enjoy passing on my knowledge.

My job is unique in that I’m also an Adjunct Professor at North Carolina State University. It’s a special privilege because it keeps me in touch with academic life and young researchers. I supervise graduate students in plant pathology, entomology, horticulture and weed science. They get financial assistance from Bayer for working with the company’s plant protection products. It’s a win-win situation. We receive research that’s focused on our products, and we offer them an opportunity to work at Bayer when they’re done. It’s a good way to bring new blood into the company. For me, it’s also a way to have that direct connection to basic research, which I sometimes miss. In fact, on a perfect work day I spend some time in the lab, check on some plants in the greenhouse or even get outside to observe some field trials.

CV Dr. Michael Schwarz

1954 Born in a small city in rural Wisconsin, USA

1976 Bachelor of Science in Biology, minor in Chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

1981 PhD in Plant Pathology, minor in Entomology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

1981-1985 Adjunct Professor of Plant Pathology at Cornell University; developed Integrated Pest Management concepts for New York State

1985-current Various positions including Bayer Field Development Representative, Group Leader Fungicides, Director of Seed Treatment Product Development, and currently Product and Crop Development Manager

2014-current Adjunct Professor of Plant Pathology, North Caroline State University

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