Driving Tractors, Insights and Innovation
At the recent Women in Agribusiness Summit in Denver, Colorado, Jane Stevenson, Vice Chair, Board & CEO Services for Korn Ferry, shared findings from Women CEOs Speak. The study found that the top skills for female CEOs are the same skills needed to innovate – engage and inspire, develop talent, build effective teams, direct work, exhibit courage, and manage ambiguity. Throughout the conference, I had the opportunity to meet many bright innovators, thinkers, and business leaders poised to make a big impact on the agriculture industry and the world at large. It’s not every day that you get to sit in a room filled with 750 smart and motivated women to share experiences and insights.
Women are making great strides in digital innovation. Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality were all hot topics at this year’s event. Petra Volckaert, Global IT Lead for Vegetable Seeds and Ag Productivity at Bayer Crop Science, discussed how our company is using AI to develop “growing recipes” for tomato glasshouse growers in The Netherlands and encouraged our industry to think Humans + AI instead of Humans vs. AI to advance positive dialogues around important new technologies. I’m inspired by both Petra’s efforts to create digital tools as well as her efforts to empower women in the IT space.
Of course, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk with our farmer customers at the conference! April Hemmes runs her family’s Century corn and soybean farm in North Central Iowa. Her husband doesn’t farm at all, she told me; in fact, he has only ridden in the combine once to see what a couple hundred thousand dollars buys! When April first came back to the farm after several jobs elsewhere, she wanted to get involved in the county pork board but was told: “We have an organization for that. It’s called the Porkettes.” People couldn’t understand that April was the pork producer rather than the farm wife. Eventually, April took a spot on the county pork board, and within a year she had become part of the state pork board and has served on countless boards since. “If you show up and you work hard, people notice that. If you’re involved and informed, you’ll progress.”
April also shared her excitement for the cutting-edge ag technologies on the horizon that will continue to increase efficiency and productivity on her farm. During her panel, she said she’s sometimes told, “You don’t farm with your hands,” to which she happily responds, “Yes I do! I use my phone all the time.” April tells the story of her grandfather, who saw an incredible evolution of technology in his 101 years. Imagine what the next 101 years will bring!
As we continue to advance ag technologies in the years ahead, we must ensure that smallholder farmers have access to these innovations. My Bayer colleague, Dr. Jackie Applegate, filled the room with energy, enthusiasm and purpose when she gave a keynote about going “ALL IN” in the age of acceleration. “There’s no more powerful purpose in the world than zero hunger,” she said. We have made exponential advances in ag technology; however, women smallholder farmers do not have the same technology offerings available to them as men. In fact, Jackie explained, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that if female farmers had access to the same tools as their male counterparts, approximately 150 million people worldwide would not go to bed hungry. I highly recommend reading Jackie’s recent piece Women + Unprecedented Change = Endless Possibilities. I listened to Jackie’s presentation with a smile from ear to ear, knowing we the excitement and passion for advancing women in agriculture and putting food on the plates of families around the world – a mission worth waking up for each day.
Driving Tractors, Insights and Innovation
Innovation and the deployment of those innovations to the place where they’re most needed requires diverse ways of thinking. Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and a keynote speaker at the conference, was diagnosed as autistic as a young child. Her parents were told she would never speak or contribute to society. Today, she’s a widely known pioneer for the humane handling of livestock, has authored multiple New York Times bestsellers, and, in 2010, was named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People list. It takes many types of minds to run the world. “Without autistic thinking,” Dr. Grandin told the audience, “we wouldn’t have the ag tech we have today.” Getting diverse voices to the table starts with building an inclusive culture. Companies, must create a space where people from all backgrounds feel comfortable sharing their ideas and know that their unique perspectives are valued.
I left the Women in Agribusiness Summit feeling inspired by what women have accomplished and continue to accomplish in the agriculture industry. Together we are making a huge impact on the world.