Post #1: Entrepreneurship in the Grain and Feed Industry
While I have taken a gap year off of college classes in order to serve as a National FFA Officer, this role has taught me lessons far beyond what most classrooms can provide. The three-circle model of agricultural education consists of in-class instruction; leadership through FFA programs; and experiential learning--largely through what we call Supervised Agricultural Experiences--where students have their own project relating to agriculture, food, or natural resource systems. I'm especially partial to any aspect of experiential learning, and that's part of why I found so much value in the GFAI Industry Immersion Scholarship Program. Not only did we get to tour working facilities and learn from people who are out doing the work each day, but also we got to spend time job shadowing in those facilities for an even more in-depth learning experience. This spring, I've found myself in experiential learning scenarios that are more about thought leadership, industry-wide macro trends, and management; the time I spend in meetings with C-suite leadership of international agriculture corporations, however, is made more valuable because of the time I've spent on the ground with experts in the field, like those I met during the fall semester as part of the Immersion Tour and job shadowing days.
One of the most fascinating meetings I've had so far in my role as an FFA officer was with a leader in Syngenta's global biological products division. We talked about his focus in the area of new innovations through biological crop inputs that serve as one more tool in a farmer's toolbox, but we also covered some of the current trends in the agriculture industry as a whole. One of the most interesting, to me, was the increasing importance of the entrepreneurial spirit.
Much of the innovation that is occurring in agriculture is now coming at the hands of small start-up companies rather than the large, often multi-national, well-known companies in agriculture. Those larger companies, however, aren't missing out on the action; many have investment portfolios of their own, where they invest dollars into potential future acquisitions and are simply able to learn more about these emerging technologies. It also seems that hardly a week goes by without reading another email newsletter about a start-up acquisition in the agriculture industry. This trend has significant implications for both well-established players in the grain and feed industry as well as young people like myself who are seeking to find our place in it.
From how I see it, there are two distinct ways to play a role in grain and feed industry innovation: we can either be the kind of person who begins or works for a start-up, or we can be the kind of person who works for the larger company that will ultimately purchase and scale up the innovation created by the start-up. Either role requires somewhat of an ability to think independently and creatively; this is the type of thinking fostered by experiential learning that both the FFA and the GFAI student programs provide.