Women in Agriculture: Third Edition
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Hello again my global friends. Welcome back to another edition of GBAL's "Women in Agriculture" where we highlight the accomplishments of exceptional women leaders from all over the industry. This year has started with uncertainty and change due to the effects of COVID-19, however, it's amazing to see how our industry has adapted to keep our business moving as farming never stops because we all need food. With the same resolve in mind, we are here to highlight the changes that are improving our world and the appearance of our industry.
This time we are delighted to showcase three women leaders in the industry who have varied backgrounds and are showing everyone everywhere that the world is changing for the better, especially in agriculture. Women have played a quiet role in every field across history, their contributions have to be highlighted as much as possible. We hope that through these success stories, we can raise that volume by shouting to the world the immeasurable work and accomplishments these leaders have garnered.
We hope you stay safe, and find the words of these women an inspiration in your life. Stay safe and healthy. See you all soon at BioAg World Congress.
—Roger Tripathi, CEO & Founder GBAL
Larisa Elinevskaya, Avgust Head of R&D Formulation Department, Moscow, Russia
"I was born in Moscow. Graduated with honors from the Moscow Mendeleev University of chemical technology. Then I received a Doctor Degree in organic chemistry.
"I started my career as a senior researcher at the All-Union research Institute of chemical crop protection products in Moscow specializing in physical, colloidal and organic chemistry. My research interests include the development of the formulation of pesticides and biopesticides, the study of the mechanism of action of pesticides and the influence of formulation components on their effectiveness.
"Since 2001, I have been working for Avgust Crop Protection, the largest producer of pesticides in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
"Now I am the head of the R&D Formulation Department. I am responsible for the departments of analytical chemistry, development of liquid, solid and heterogeneous formulations, research groups for biopesticides, extrusion processes, raw material"
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female leader in Bio Agriculture and how have you overcome these challenges?
A: "The main problem for me, as a woman and a specialist in Agriculture – is to take into account two opposite factors. On the one hand, to preserve the crop, it is necessary to use the most modern tools of crop protection. On the other hand, the Environmental and Toxicological consequences of using effective formulations should be minimal.
"Both sides of this issue affect me as a woman and a mother who has a responsibility to care for future generations. To solve this problem, we actively use all types of analyses that allow us to predict the result of using new products. We are paying more and more attention to new sources of crop protection products – plant extracts, allelopathy products, bacterial and fungal preparations."
Q: If you had to explain to a younger woman, how you succeeded in your career, what would you tell this person?
A: "To succeed in any career, you need to love and know your specialty.
"My grandfather was one of the organizers of the chemical industry in the USSR. My father was a professor and a well-known chemist in the field of biologically active compounds. So, my choice of work in the field of Bio Agriculture is quite conscious. It was supported, by an understanding of the importance of this industry. My son also chose chemistry and crop protection as his specialty and he represents the fourth generation of our family working in the same branch of chemistry.
"A young woman, who is planning a career in this field, should understand: awareness of her work’s purpose is the foundation of success. Many young women believe that marriage and kids can prevent her from making a career. If she has become a specialist and expert in her field of knowledge, then family life will help her to better understand not only the work in agriculture, but also to understand the people who work next to her, and this is the key to success."
Q: What has been your main motivation to become a leader in Bio Agriculture?
A: "From a young age, I didn’t like doing useless work. In agriculture, the lack of crop protection causes farmers to work very hard, but the yield can be completely lost. The understanding of this idea was the main motivation for me to work with crop protection products. Of course, the continuation of my professional dynastyб also motivated me to make a career in agriculture business."
Q: What made you start your own career in Bio Agriculture?
A: "When I studied at the Moscow University of Chemical Technology and worked on my Dissertation (Ph. D. in Chemistry), several compounds, which I synthesized, had high biological activity. It showed me, that if I work hard and improve my knowledge and skills, I can succeed in agriculture."
Q: Do you have any goals you still want to achieve? Which are those and how do you want to get there?
A: "Working many years in R&D of crop protection products, I see that the correct application of the pesticides has a great importance at the present stage. Exceeding the application standards and repeating use of pesticides for the treatment of genetically modified plants can lead to uncontrolled effects on the human health and the environment. This creates a negative opinion to crop protection. So, my current tasks are to scientifically justify the need for competent use of pesticides and search for the new sources of biologically active substances based on natural compounds."
Q: Agriculture has been dominated by men and women have played a supportive role. Do Women have an advantage in this field primarily since they have a deeper insight into “FOOD” and “HEALTH” of the family?
A: "In my opinion it does not matter whether a man or a woman leads the process. However, when making decisions, women managers can have a decisive influence on the promotion of products that are safer for people and nature. This is due to the fact, that a woman, as a mother and wife is more concerned about the impact of plant protection products on food."
Dr. Fatma Kaplan
Chief Executive Officer, (CEO) of Pheronym, Inc.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female leader in agriculture and how have you overcome these challenges?
A: “I have been in agriculture all of my life. I work hard, because agriculture requires hard work in every aspect. One thing I did see, when you’re a woman, people don’t see your accomplishments. When you’re a man, they immediately recognize them. But when women do the same accomplishment or more, most of the time it goes unnoticed. Even though we don’t do things for recognition, it is nice to be recognized from time to time that we know our efforts are appreciated.
“The way I overcame many challenges is I surrounded myself with very positive and supportive people. It is really important, how people present a problem and provide a solution in a positive way. That way improvements come faster ‘I know what the problem is, I can focus on solving it,’ versus some people mean well but the way they present it is not as positive. When the issue is presented negatively, it takes you a while to figure out what the real problem is, then you have to get over the negativity first before focusing on the problem and finding a solution to fix it. Therefore, I usually pick people who are very successful and have a very positive communication style so I can accomplish more in a short timeframe.
“I use my time very efficiently. That is something I learned very early on in my life as kid on the family farm. My grandparents have a farm and they said efficiency is very important in Agriculture to be successful. So, time management is another important thing to overcome challenges.”
Q: You mentioned that your grandparents were in agriculture and that it was part of your family. Has it always been part of your family? Is all of you family in agriculture?
A: “I would say ‘yes’. My grandparents are hazelnut farmers. I love hazelnuts and Nutella or hazelnut spread, as you can imagine! Before that they were tobacco farmers and tobacco was really great for big cigarette companies, but it wasn’t all that profitable for farmers. It was very labor intensive, therefore they switched to hazelnuts, which was more profitable for them, I was told. It happened, apparently, long before I was born, but I used to see the pictures. Both of my grandparents were hazelnut farmers. I had uncles, several of them were hazelnut farmers and some of them had other businesses; one was in textiles, one was a mechanic. They were not all self-employed. Some of them had higher education and became teachers and principals at schools. Higher education was very important.”
Q: Would you say that’s what largely influenced you to get into agriculture?
A: “I think I really liked nature. I liked the greens and having fresh fruits. In the wintertime, I used to go to school. In the summertime, I spent time on the farm and I really enjoyed it. I used to play with my cousins. We had fresh fruits and vegetables. In the farmhouse, they had these balconies where grapevines would go around and you could grab a nice bunch of fresh grapes to eat. Many of the trees (some of them were close to the house) you’d climb and get fresh cherries or fresh peaches. My grandparents really loved fruit trees and every season they had fresh fruit which was so tasty. I got used to eating high-quality tasty food. When you grow up playing with the dirt and the soil it becomes a part of you. You want to protect it. It’s in some ways your home.”
Q: So, you had a lot of good memories about it as a child. Have those good memories continued as you became an adult and entered the industry?
A: “I think so. I went to the college of agriculture for my undergrad, where I was a horticulture major and I was interested in plant breeding. Hazelnuts always have it where one-year production is very high, the next year it’s not. I thought maybe I could be a breeder and maybe make them produce every year consistently. One of the other things that interested me was breeding plants that would be resistant to pests. Every year we had to do pest control. When I was growing up, chemical pesticides were a big thing because they made a big difference in the yield. Over time, farming changed. Now when I talk to my mother and other hazelnut farmers in Turkey, they’re all asking, ‘Do you have any organic solutions?’ They don’t want to use synthetic pesticides anymore. Demand for organic solutions is not a developed country's thing anymore. Wow!"
Q: If you had to explain to a younger woman, how you succeeded in your career, what would you tell her?
A: “Having a successful career is a tough road, but it is possible. You have to be resilient because things aren’t going to be handed to you. Sometimes it may feel like you are treated unfairly, but don’t take it personally. It happens to us all. Be very resourceful. Your time is very valuable so manage your time very, very efficiently. Have very positive, successful people, and supportive people around you because success doesn’t really happen by itself. Whenever you see a successful person, it’s not really just that person, there are probably hundreds of people that helped that person along the way. If you want to be successful you have to have really good people to support you. Like people say, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and it’s the same thing for a successful career."
Q: What has been your main motivation to become a leader in agriculture?
A: “I want to make a difference in agriculture. Growing up in an ag family was the main motivation. Also, I have the education and more resources than my grandparents or my mother had. If a person like me can’t make a difference, who can? I had to put my Ph.D. and postdoc education to work to help farmers.”
Q: Do you have any goals you still want to achieve? What are they and how do you want to get there?
A: “I have many goals. I decided to do tackle them one at a time. The first one is to bring Nemastim to the market. Nemastim is a nematode pheromone to improve beneficial nematodes effectiveness for insect control. This was product development from bench to field. We completed our laboratory and greenhouse trials, we recently did preliminary field trials and if corona virus hadn’t been around, we’d be doing field trials. We are targeting the greenhouse market first, then the fruit and nut orchards, then we are going to target row crops. Just because we have showed that the technology works, it does not mean it sells itself. It needed to be manufactured and made available. So, we have learned about manufacturing, and many different aspects about bringing a product to the market. It’s very exciting because it is ag!
"Once we finish the Nemastim project, we will move forward with Pherocoat project where we are targeting to control plant parasitic nematodes."
Q: Agriculture has been dominated by men, and women have been perceived to play a supportive role. Do Women have an advantage in this field because historically they have a direct contact with “FOOD” and “HEALTH” of the family?
A: “No, women do not have an advantage. Because we have been perceived to play a 'supportive role', we are expected to support, not lead. That is the problem. We are not perceived as leaders and we need to change the perception. Being in a supportive role we are not just a support system; we can be supportive, but we can also be the leaders. At the same time, community-wise, we should support other women leaders, the upcoming ones, as much as we can. We should also be helping people around us. We do have disasters, so we’ll look around us, in the meantime, and help those in need. Your blog is doing a great job of highlighting women leaders in agriculture like Dr. Pam Marrone and many other leaders. Seeing more women leaders is going to have a lot more positive effect on women as leaders."
AgBiTech Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Queensland, Australia
Q: How did you get into agriculture? What drew you to it?
A: “Interestingly, I was actually born and raised in an urban area and growing up I did not have any particular ties to agriculture. However, in school, I was always drawn to the biological sciences. It is amazing the level of influence that teachers can have on young minds. I had the fortune of having a couple of extraordinary teachers who were so passionate about their views on Agriculture that they transferred that excitement to me. On a curious note, they were both amazing women! I particularly recall a history class about Agriculture as the most impactful economic driver for human progress—eloquent to say the least!
"At a time of large unemployment rates across many professions, agriculture was still the main sector providing employment and steady growth. Large governmental incentives were being issued to enable growers to continue to feed a fast-growing world population."
Q: Was Science a big part of your family?
A: "No, not really. My mom was home with the kids and my dad was a civil engineer. No one in the extended family was in science. I liked a lot of things; I was curious, and I was always interested in the learning process and in improving things. I loved school, enjoyed reading. Teachers thought of me as an applied and dedicated student. I could have gone in so many different directions— and done well. I was open to the possibilities ...
"My dad was a big influencer in my life— he believed I could be anything I wanted to be as long as I applied myself fully and worked hard toward my goals. When I asked him what he thought of me pursuing a degree in agronomy, he was so excited he went on to buy a small piece of land that we still own today. He said ‘Daughter, that is the profession of the future— people will always need food on their plates’. Decision made!
"Little I knew that was only the first career decision ... of many. Agriculture is such a dynamic and diverse field— requiring expertise in nearly all major areas of knowledge: Sociology, Economy, Finance, Engineering, Administration and Business Management, Computer Sciences, Communications, Marketing, Sales, and yes, many, many fields within the Biological Sciences."
Q: What challenges did you face that you felt were unique to women in this field and how did you overcome them?
A: "I faced many challenges, believe me! But unique to women? Huh ... that is an interesting question. I never really thought of my struggles as gender driven. They were the normal struggles of a young professional. That feeling that there was always so much to learn and so little I knew. A feeling that only experience and maturity can help subside to some degree. Let me tell you, giving a talk in front of large audiences was hard, sweaty hands, heart beating, the butterflies. The answer? Practice, practice, practice. And what a thrill when you overcome that fear and win the audience’s interest and attention. What a great feeling! It motivated me to practice even more the next time.
"Honestly, I never felt at a disadvantage as a woman. Much on the contrary. There is so much power in being a woman in agriculture. We are genetically built for it! Creative, smart, passionate, dedicated, organized, attentive to detail, mission oriented. What can we not accomplish?!
"I think it is about the way you look at yourself. Confidence comes from within, I am certain. And if you think you are awesome, others will too! I remember myself 30 years ago as a summer intern. Every time we visited a grower, I would immediately be invited to go have coffee with the wife in the kitchen while my male partner would ‘talk business’ in the living room with the grower. What are you going to do, I thought? These folks were brought up in a different environment and had very little access to information back then. I had to understand and respect where they were coming from and meet them where they were. Particularly if you were visiting their home! I always got a good laugh out of those situations. And often, I got as much or more valuable information about the farming operations by chatting with the lady in the kitchen. And I got cookies. Loved it!
"Or the time only a few years ago when a group of us visited a Mennonite farming operation in Washington State. There I found myself again in the kitchen with a group of very friendly ladies. I took the opportunity to learn some amazing peach cobbler recipes and to tell the ladies all about my rewarding career as an agricultural scientist. They listened with admiration. It made my day to think that I might have expanded their horizons a bit."
Q: What are some ways you feel that more opportunities can be opened for women in the field? Is it more on the field changing or is it more on women’s perception on the field?
A: "On reflection, how you are raised can make a huge difference on the way you think of yourself. This one is for the parents. Believe in your kids, raise them to express their highest potential. My parents did not raise me as a girl, they raised me as an individual, very gender neutral. House full of boys and girls, same rules for everyone. Even sleep overs were mixed gender. It was about being responsible and being accountable. Building that strong, confident image of yourself. It starts at home, for sure.
"I feel that the opportunities in Agriculture are many and are out there for the taking— men or women. Each year I see more women in agriculture. Take the company where I work, as an example. Two of the three top executives are women. I do think that the only way for us to change things is to start with ourselves. We cannot control the world out there, we can only control who we are and how we act. Empower yourselves— be the best that you can be, develop yourselves, always. Be open to the new and different, embrace change, and the opportunities will come. I promise!
"When hiring, I never look at gender but rather at the qualifications of the individuals. That is what it is all about! More opportunities—in any professional field—will come to well-prepared, self-confident individuals. Individuals that are reliable and work hard. Professionals that can work well in teams and individually, people that are never satisfied with the status quo, people that pride themselves on continuous improvement independent of gender. That is the recipe for success. It is not about the world giving you opportunities. It is about YOU going out and getting them!"
Q: If you had to explain to a younger woman how you succeeded in your career what would you tell them?
A: "I did not know it then, but I know it now. The word I would single out is ‘dedication’.
I would not give up when faced with adversity. It just made me stronger. Adversity made me worry about my future from a young age, taught me to not take anything for granted. 'Practice, practice, practice.' It is like in sports, really. Practice makes perfect! No pain, no gain. Adversity was a big driver for me. It does not have to be like that for everyone, of course. But I do believe that you must be passionate about your work and you must be willing to put in the effort— that is the secret. Keep your mind open to the possibilities— the journey will take you to unexpectedly good places. Do not freeze in analysis paralysis, in trying to plan your entire future ahead. Develop yourself, take internships, shadow professionals you admire, prepare, prepare, practice, practice. When that great opportunity comes, you will be ready!"
Q: What has been your main motivation to become a leader in agriculture?
A: "I think Agriculture chose me instead. I did not really know how much I loved it until I was in it. Advances in agricultural practices continue to have a profound impact in our ability to feed the world and to do so in a way that preserves our planet for many generations to come. It is really fascinating how much we can do to better our ways of living through Agriculture! The question is how could I not be motivated? Very early on, I became passionate about innovative technologies and integrated pest management and I devoted my entire career to this area. I thrived on working with people that shared the same ideals and passion and in recruiting and training more and more to join the army for this very noble cause. There is nothing more rewarding than creating and developing highly effective cross-functional teams that can change the world for the better!"
Q: Do you have any goals you still want to achieve in the field? If so, what are they and how do you want to get there?
A: "I have been blessed with an amazing career that allowed me to contribute to the discovery and commercialization of some of the most selective and effective synthetic insecticides in the history of Agricultural Crop Protection. In more recent years, I have had the privilege of leading one of the largest global effort in developing and launching highly effective and safe biological Baculovirus-based insecticides. These are examples of new technologies that positively impact the lives of many around the world, today. But we are still far from the goal of ‘zero hunger’ in a clean and self-sustained planet. That will continue to be my mission: contribute toward technological advancement in conservation-oriented farming systems that meet the increasing demand for food, worldwide. And, in my journey, I hope to inspire many of the younger generations to follow, women and men alike."
Thank you so much for reading and a special thank you to the three wonderful women who gave their time for these interviews. It's so great to see the individual styles of successful people and their influence they are having on all aspects of the industry. Wish you could have seen how their faces lit up whenever they talked about agriculture. This is an exciting field and its reassuring to see such great leaders trail blazing us to a better and safer tomorrow.