Walk into the state-of-the-art labs of the WinField United Innovation Center in River Falls, Wisconsin, and you might be surprised at the age of many of the people hard at work. That’s because many of the scientists and engineers behind protective eyewear at WinField United and other top agriculture firms today are millennials, as recent STEM graduates are suddenly reinvigorating a field that’s often seen as traditional, even staid.
In just the past few decades, agricultural science has become a growth industry. And WinField United is on the cutting edge of converting data and analytics to agronomic insights, ag tech and innovation.
“Agricultural careers are incredibly diverse these days,” says Mike Gaul, longtime career services director at Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Sadly, the average American is so far removed from agriculture -- it’s much more than the traditional cows, plows and sows.”
A case in point? Amy Heberling, a 23-year-old forage agronomist and first-year associate at WinField United.
“The most exciting part of my work is how farmers are incorporating technology into their operations,” says Amy, who grew up on row crop farm that produced corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.
These days, she works with WinField United’s R7® Field Forecasting Tool, an innovative web-based crop modeling system. The tool uses specific information from farmers’ fields to simulate crop growth and development -- allowing them to predict optimal timing and rates for nutrient and water applications.
How does this tie back to the Innovation Center? Modern agricultural careers like Amy’s run the gamut, from soil mapping to spray dynamics engineering to sustainability. While the overall industry faces challenges, agricultural science is a high-growth, high-tech sector. And STEM graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment are in high demand.
“In the last decade, schools and companies have kicked their [ag tech] recruiting efforts into high gear,” says Gaul, “and the engineering job market is just killing it these days with amazing opportunities for college graduates.”
According to a 2015-2020 USDA report, science and engineering jobs account for 27 percent of ag jobs today and offer highly competitive salaries. Leading ag companies are in a gold rush to find young, skilled talent to fill those jobs as new technology takes center stage.
The idea of “doing good” and helping feed a growing population is another draw of the job for millennials looking for meaningful work, according to recruiters and educators.
At Land O’Lakes, we’re all about working to feed human progress by identifying new and innovative ideas across our farm-to-fork portfolio in partnership with our farmer and retail owners. Together taking on the challenges that lie ahead.
Amy, for one, looks forward to the challenges and rewards her career presents. “In agriculture,” she says, “we are continuing to figure out how to produce more on fewer acres."