Kelsey Vance, Retail Sales Representative for Syngenta, uses math, science, and communications skills every day! She loves her job because everyday is different and she gets to develop relationships with the farmers in her territory. Does this sound like something you’d enjoy?
Kelsey obtained an Agricultural Transferable Degree from Illinois Central College, an Agribusiness and Agronomy Management Degree from Illinois State University, and is now maximizing those degrees with Syngenta.
Elizabeth: What made you choose this career path?
Kelsey: I was a senior, Dr. Spaulding assigned an agricultural sales ride along project. I rode with Ken, a Syngenta Salesman. He asked if I had considered a sales career, I said, “no, not really.” We visited several retailers and farmers cooked lunch for one group of farmers. I had the opportunity to sit in a spray plane. Ken was a part of the farmers’ operations but he was also part of their family. At the end of the day, he asked again if I would enjoy a career in sales. Without hesitation, I responded “If a career in sales consists of what you do, absolutely!” In June 2012, I started with Syngenta as Developmental Sales Representative. In May 2016, Ken retired and offered his territory to me, allowing me to move back home.
Elizabeth: What underlying sciences are behind your job?
Kelsey: Agronomy requires both math and science which play a large role in my career. If you asked me ten years ago if I would have understood the life cycle of a nematode or been able to differentiate between the various species of foxtails I would have told you that you were crazy! However, the longer I spend in my career the more I learn and the more it excites me! While agronomy is very important, there is much more to my position than agronomy alone. You could be the smartest person in the world and still not be successful in sales. Sales requires communication and I believe communication is key to success in sales and several other businesses. Retailers and growers are very understanding if I have to call my agronomist or a technical expert to answer their question, as long as I get back to them with the correct answer. However, if I do not answer their call at all, or do not follow through with getting them the answer, they are not happy. I thrive on accuracy in a timely manner and follow-through!
Elizabeth: What stands out that helped you get to where you’re at today?
Kelsey: Growing up on my family farm with a loving family and amazing friends has without a doubt led me to where I am today! On the farm, I learned several life lessons at an early age like responsibility, patience, hard work and dedication. My parents taught my sister and me the importance of family, Church, morals and how to carry that on. My friends have been there for me through it all!
Elizabeth: Describe a “a day in the life of Kelsey”?
Kelsey: Every day my career is different, that is one reason why I love it! My favorite part of my job is spending time in the field with retailers and farmers, ensuring we are using the best crop protection program possible for their soil type, seed and geography. A large portion of my time is dedicated to business planning with retailers. As a sales representative, being an expert on your products takes time and patience. We have various training sessions, webinars and conference calls throughout the year to help us better understand our products. The new position I have accepted within Syngenta has given me the opportunity to work with the aerial applicators. The airplanes allow us to spray several acres in a timely manner, which is crucial to certain diseases and insects. A couple weeks ago, I spent two days helping the pilots calibrate airplanes ensuring they were spraying the correct amount needed. The items I have listed above are merely a glimpse of what my days consist of. While my career takes me several different directions my goal is to help farmers increase yields to provide food needed to feed our growing population.
Are you considering a career in agriculture yet?
Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the fourth post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.
It’s planting time! No matter what part of the state a farmer is in, he’s probably doing SOME amount of planting in the month of May – assuming the weather is cooperating. Corn grows best in temperatures between 60 and 95 degrees. A rainy day can prevent progress for just that day, the day after that, or even a 3rd day depending on how much rain he got and how well his fields drain water. Keep in mind, planting is more than just dropping the seeds in the ground…
- Possibly apply Ammonia and/or fertilizer
- Prepare the seed bed by cultivating the ground
- Calibrate the planter for a variety of factors such as different seeds, field populations, soil type, terrain, etc.
- Plant the seeds
- Monitor germination and emergence
In the midst of all this field work, there are ditches and waterways to mow, equipment maintenance to keep up on, as well as bills to pay and grain markets to follow. A farmer won’t breathe a sigh of relief until all his crops are in the ground.
When you think of a farmer, what do you think of? Do you think of an intelligent man who knows various farming techniques or do you think of a hillbilly wearing bib overalls with a front tooth missing? Most people who do not live in rural America probably think of farmers as being dumb hillbillies that have strange accents and have mud all over their clothes from working in the fields all day. With this in mind, I think this is the biggest misconception about farmers.
Last Sunday, I was in Costco with my family doing our weekly grocery shopping and while we were checking out, the nice cashier lady asked what we did for living. As my mother and father told her we were farmers, she began laughing and said, “You guys sure don’t look like farmers!” My family and I looked at each other with surprise because we didn’t think farmers looked a particular way because we are surrounded with other farmers all the time and it’s simply our way of life. After our Costco trip, I began wondering what the main misunderstanding about farmers were and I think it’s that people think farmers are rednecks with no brains, but that’s simply not the case.
To begin with, farmers are a little more fashionable than what you may think. Farmers generally wear jeans, work boots, and a work shirt that’s appropriate for their job, certainly not bib overalls! If you drive down the road and see a farmer in a tractor, you will most likely also see him wearing a ball cap too. It’s just the fashion trend that farmers do!
Furthermore, farmers are really intelligent people. The average farmer in the state of Illinois handles over $600,000 to put in one crop, like corn, for one year. How many people do you know that can walk into a bank and borrow $600,000? Probably not many! So not only do farmers need to have financial skills, balance sheet and sales knowledge, he also has to know the biology of soils, crops, and plants. Being an expert of soils, crops, and plants, allows a farmer to determine when the field is ready to plant, fertilize, and harvest. The agronomic information a farmer has today is in such demand that companies will pay the farmer for the data.
All in all, farmers are just like everyone else, just a different field of knowledge and interests. I encourage you to take a drive out in the country. Its prime planting season, so you will be able to see you’re local farmers planting away, putting their crop into the field. If it wasn’t for farmers, we wouldn’t be able to put more than half of the food on the table for dinner. Be sure to thank a farmer next time you see them because they do a lot more than what you may think!
Black Hawk East Junior College
Living the life of a farmer was something that I grew up understanding because almost everyone in my life was involved in agriculture; however, not everyone may know what it takes to be a farmer. It is as easy as one, two, three! I am here to show you the three simple tactics to hop right into the field as a top-of-the-line farmer. * Read on to see how brains, following your gut, and cold, hard cash can lead you to the farmer lifestyle you desire.
*Unfortunately, this is sarcasm.
Step 1: Education
Even though the stereotype may be that farmers are uneducated, this is far from the truth. Farmers today would not be able to run their operations without all the knowledge they have gained throughout their lives. The key to their education is that it has been their entire life and it has been very hands on. If you are starting new as a farmer, you will need to spend at least the next ten years of your life devoting time to learning about whatever type of operation you wish to have. This writer spent one week on a farm and tells what he learned about getting into the rhythm of farm life. Whether you need to spend time in the field growing crops or in a barn working with cattle, that full-immersion education is the first key to becoming an expert farmer.
Step 2: Intuition
Unlike obtaining an education, this step to becoming an expert farmer is not as cut-and-dry. Having the intuition to face the everyday obstacles that a farmer may meet is arguably one of the most important things to have, but, also, the most difficult. A cattle farmer needs to know when to follow their gut feeling about when a heifer is about to have her calf (like the farmer does in this article). A grain producer needs to listen to their inner voice about when to hold back a few days on planting and when the right time to harvest is. Timing of these events is critical to maintaining one’s farm and using your intuition correctly can lead to being an expert farmer. There is even a whole book about this step!
Step 3: Cash
The final step to becoming an expert farmer is having the cash to start and run an operation. Just like in every other field, operating costs for farmers have gone up a great amount in the past decade. It can be seen in this graph that cost per acre is on a continuous upward slope. That upward slope is true for all branches of farming, so to be an expert farmer with a successful operation, you need money to handle the costs. This article explains the increasing costs for rice farmers in Arkansas. The increased cost of inputs does not completely outweigh the income that farmers receive for their products. That is why having a cash source is included in these quick steps to becoming an expert farmer.
My hope is that after reading this, the number of farmers in the world will increase exponentially! In all seriousness, these three steps are not all that it takes to be a farmer. There is so much that goes into the lifestyle, and these three are only a place to start. There are many places for education to be obtained, it is possible to naturally have the intuition needed, and managing money well in order to start a farm is also a feasible goal. While the cash step may seem daunting, I would say that these farmers would tell you the benefits greatly exceed the costs of becoming a farmer.
Illinois State University
Danae Ross and her mother Kendra are the dynamic duo of Bureau County. You name it and they probably do it! One of their greatest passions is to ride horses. They have four horses altogether. “My favorite horse is Diamond because she is so easy-going and sweet” Danae said. Her and Kendra raised a few of the horses from when they were babies. Together, they teach the horses how to ride with someone on their back and how to perform certain maneuvers, like hopping over logs and staying on the path for trail rides. For the past 15 years, they have traveled to Missouri for the Big Creek Trail ride. Big Creek provides scrumptious buffet-style meals and good entertainment, as well as incredible trails. It’s all hilly, mountainous forestland with a gorgeous river and the view from the top of the mountain is simply breathtaking.
Along with their love for horses, the duo also loves to work on landscape together. When pulling into their driveway, one sees landscape that many can only dream about! Kendra was willing enough to lend us a few helpful tips on how they keep their flowerbeds looking flawlessly beautiful. She says the best gardening tip is to start mulching early and use plenty of it. Mulch is a covering, such as straw or compost, which is spread on the ground around plants to prevent excessive evaporation, enrich the soil, and inhibit weed growth. By applying mulch early, gardeners can reduce the weeds from even getting started growing. Another key to gardening is maintaining the beds daily. The younger the weeds are, the easier they are to pull and keeping up with the weeds frequently will keep the beds in great shape and looking beautiful.
Another activity the Ross duo did together was 4-H. Kendra was the 4-H leader of Western Winning Wonders for ten years. When Danae was president of the 4-H club, the two were inseparable making plans and activities for the club. Kendra is now the Bureau County 4-H Horse Superintendent, where she plans and prepares for the horse show every year. Danae’s favorite part of 4-H was exhibiting her livestock. She showed, goats, horses, and rabbits. Now that’s a lot of work for one person, so Danae and Kendra built a close relationship doing this together, learning and doing all those different things together. 4-H really is a great way for parents to build strong relationships with their children.
As you can see, Danae and Kendra are very involved within the agriculture industry. “It has given us many opportunities” Danae said, “ from being able to sell some of the animals to taking us all over the state to various horse horses, and to just allow us to learn about each animal and the showing process as well as bring us to meet and make relationships with a lot of incredible people.” Whether it is big or small, agriculture is a part of everyone’s life, and is especially a part of the Ross’s.
Black Hawk East Junior College
I live in a town where almost everyone is employed by one of two companies.
And actually, now that I think about it, we also have other large employers, but still, when I meet someone new and ask where they work, they work at one of two places most often.
One of those two places is shipping a lot of employees to other states. And no, this blog post is not about the state of affair in Illinois or our lack of budget or our plethora of debt.
When one of my friends returned to my town from her new state, new house, and new job, she was telling us how much fun it has been to be out of Illinois. How the taxes are lower. How the schools are better. How the political commercials hit you a little less square in the gut. And she wondered, why would I want to stay in Illinois?
So, I thought about it. And even after I gave her my answer, I thought about it some more. What’s holding me here? Why is Illinois important? Why have I lived within a very small triangle of space my entire 38 years on this earth?!
The answer, after much debate and internal soul-searching, is exactly the same answer that came to my gut when she posed the question.
Because I’m a farm girl.
Because that dirt gets under your skin.
Because the rest of your family – even your extended family – lives near.
Because the culture, the mindset, the psyche of a farmer is to stay in one place. To be rooted to the earth. To know – like a deep in your being sort of knowing – the land that you’re a steward of.
Farmers can’t pick up and move the earth that provides their living. Even the skill set that they’ve developed, this internal intuition about how to handle every single set back that mother nature dishes out, doesn’t necessarily apply to other regions of the country. Every bit of dirt is different, unique, and a farmer is a bit attached to his or her specific piece.
So no, I can’t imagine leaving here. I will be a citizen of Illinois – and all the “stuff” that entails – for the rest of my life.
I think Paul Taylor, one of the many farmers I’ve been privileged to know over my years in our industry, says it best so I’ll let you hear it from him. (Start at about 2:45 if you don’t want to watch the entire video.)