Partnering with the Future of Agriculture
Living in the U.S, if you have ever enjoyed a handful of almonds, savory garlic or grapes in the summer, chances are, they came from the Central Valley of California, home to some of the world’s most productive farmland.
Growing up in Clovis (Fresno County), I always had the luxury of seeing farming firsthand, and being surrounding by almost 2 million acres of fertile farmland. Where I grew up, there were more than 350 different crops grown, and that supported 20 percent of all jobs in the Fresno area. So, when you talked about farming to your friends and family, everyone had a connection.
But 40 years later, things have changed and people have gotten further away from farming. With less than 2 percent of all Americans working on a farm, people have had less exposure to farming leading to more curiosity about how their food is grown, and what kind of career opportunities lie in agriculture.
The good news is growth in university agricultural programs has been steadily increasing. It’s been estimated that between 2015 and 2020, an average of 57,900 annual positions/opportunities will have opened for graduates with degrees in ag-related fields. But with only 39,400 new graduates expected each year, nearly 40 percent of these job openings will have to be filled from other disciplines. Clearly, there is an urgent need to develop the next generation of agricultural experts.
Given the need for talent in many areas of agriculture, Bayer saw an opportunity to closely work with different universities throughout the U.S. to understand how their technologies can be developed and used to grow safe and nutritious food, and also help cultivate the next generation of leaders in agriculture. In the heart of the Central Valley lies California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) with which the Crop Science division of Bayer has long enjoyed a relationship, and in recent years a partnership and a new level of collaboration.
Partnering with the Future of Agriculture
In 2016, Bayer established a $200,000 endowment with the university to support entomology research at its Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. This space enables students, faculty and industry partners to study harmful and beneficial insects to develop effective integrated pest management strategies. But sharing research ideas and improving technical capabilities is only part of our expanding partnership. A key goal is to give students real-world experience and prepare them for a possible career in agriculture.
One of my colleagues, Louis Holloway (Bayer Regional Manager at the Western Field Research Station in Fresno) works closely with the students at Fresno State. “Over the past few years, we’ve hired a total of nearly 30 summer interns, two-thirds of whom have come from Fresno State,” he said. “With the pace of agricultural innovation moving so rapidly, we need to identify potential employees earlier than ever because the available talent pool is small and many in the current ag workforce are retiring.” He also noted that the relationship with Fresno State has enabled Bayer to set up demonstration trials directly on the university’s farm, which provides greater access to students and other stakeholders.
Our partnership doesn’t stop with the work at the joint research station. In partnership with Dean Witte and the leadership team at the college of agriculture, we identified student engagement as a way to give students more exposure to the breadth of careers in the agricultural industry. Last fall, we sponsored a Fresno State student, Logan Doss to participate in Career Pathways, a program designed to attract gifted students to careers in the fresh produce and floral industry. Students who participate in this program attend the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Convention & Expo, allowing them to network with agricultural experts, leaders and decision makers. Such interactions, either at the educational sessionsor at the trade show, give students first hand insights about careers in agriculture.
Logan Doss grew up in nearby Madera and received his BS degree from Fresno State, majoring in Plant Science. He is unique among most Bayer interns because he has worked in both research and sales. “I was lucky to begin my research internship in the fall, so instead of being assigned to one area – which is typical during the summer – I was exposed to different scientists and many research activities.” He is currently working as a sales intern, supporting the company’s Soil Nematode Analysis Program to help growers determine if action is needed to prevent crop loss due to nematodes. Doss is happy to have experienced both sides of the business. “Working in research helped me take what I learned in the classroom to the field and my sales internship has allowed me to interact with growers and PCAs.”
While some Bayer interns go on to become full-time employees of the company, the most important aspect of this partnership with Fresno State is to develop new leaders to address the food security needs of a world that is expected to exceed 10 billion people by 2050. Integrating the challenges associated with population growth, evolving pests, climate change, loss of farmland, and shifting food preferences requires new technologies and a new generation of people with advanced skill sets in agriculture.