Women in Agriculture: Sixth Edition
We are pleased to bring you this sixth edition of Women in Agriculture Blog. Despite the ongoing unpredictable times, agriculture has proved itself as one of the strongest pillars of economies especially in developing ones. The outstanding women across the globe are driving forward their businesses and organizations, creating or supporting new innovations in agriculture. These distinguished women with their success stories are contributing to the sectoral growth and are source of great motivation to younger women making their way in the industry. We are delighted to bring the interesting journey of three more such successful and inspirational women with the aim to promote more entrepreneurs and leaders in the industry. Hope you enjoy reading about them and drive inspiration!
Amy Yoder, CEO, Anuvia Plant Nutrients , USA
Amy Yoder serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Anuvia Plant Nutrients, an ag nutrition company that enables farmers to implement new sustainable practices that improve farm profitability, soil health, and environmental stewardship. For more than two decades Amy has contributed to the growth of the agricultural industry in key roles as Chief Executive Officer of Arysta LifeScience, North America and President of Spectrum Brands Home and Garden, and Biolab. She’s also held leadership positions at Monsanto and NuFarm Limited.
Amy currently serves on the board of directors for The Fertilizer Institute, Compass Minerals (NYSE CMP) and Arcadia Biosciences (NDQ RKDA). She also promotes agriculture through her directorship on the Clemson University Foundation Board, the Michigan State University Hannah Society and as past president for the Sigma Alpha Foundation (a sorority promoting women in agriculture). In 2018 she was named by i4 Business as the 2018 Spirit of Innovation honoree, a leadership program recognizing women in Central Florida who have made a positive impact on local economies.
She graduated with a BS in Agricultural Technology Systems Management from Michigan State University.
Q1. Tell us about your career path. You grew up on a family farm, did you always want to pursue your career in the food and agriculture sector?
Yes, I am 6th generation from a family farm in central Michigan. I have always loved agriculture, the outdoors, raising crops and animals. So, I think it was a bit of destiny that led me in this career path. As I continued my education at Michigan State University it really opened my eyes to the variety of careers that were available in agriculture, and I became focused on making ag a part of my future.
Q2. You have led so many companies successfully and continue to do so. What gives you the confidence to go forward and motivates you to be a women leader in bio-agriculture?
I don’t have a fear of failure. I learned a long time ago that there are always obstacles and challenges, and you have to have the mindset that you will prevail, and you will find a solution! That being said I also looked at each role as an opportunity to learn as well as achieve, it is these principles that have allowed me to move ahead in each new role as an adventure – it is the learning as well as the success in achieving what most people say can’t be done that keeps me motivated and driving forward.
Q3. What are your future goals for Anuvia and sustainable agriculture? How do you want to get there?
Anuvia is at a very exciting tipping point. We have just started production at our 1.2 million ton facility this enables us to be able to get our technology on over 20 million acres – thinking that 5 years ago we were an idea in a testing lab this is a significant accomplishment for us. Our Symtrx product brings nutrition to all crops with less GHG emissions and leaching than conventional fertilizers, Symtrx also adds 8 lbs of carbon to the land to feed the soil microbes and farmers have consistently realized additional yields because of the uniqueness of our product. With those unique attributes we want to expand this technology into other regions of the country and the world, we have developed a bolt on system that enables us to add our technology to existing granulation facilities thus allowing us to expand more rapidly that if we had to build greenfield sites. Anuvia is working on liquid product with the same attributes as our granule and with our bio-based nutrient system we are exploring a variety of areas where we can combine microbials with the Symtrx technology for additional agronomic benefit.
Q4. You are also president of Sigma Alpha Sorority, which promotes its members in all facets of agriculture. What is your observation about challenges faced by the young women entering the industry and what is your advice to them?
I am past President of the Foundation and promoting women in agriculture is extremely important to me. When I began in the industry it was not uncommon to sit at an event and be the only woman there – now you see many women and I think that will help agriculture continue to thrive and grow. Not only do women know agriculture, but in many instances, they are the primary purchaser of food and the decision maker when it comes to meals, nutrition, and mealtime for their families so that is an important perspective to consider. For young women, agriculture is a great career path – the world population continues to grow, and we need to continue this ever-growing population while respecting our current resources, so I believe the opportunities to do this are endless. Women entering this field should not be afraid to take risks, ask questions, and continue learning there will be many challenges and opportunities and I think that is what makes the future for them so exciting.
Q5. You attended BAW congress this year, and you saw how we focus on Women in Agriculture in our agenda, we will love to launch a segment in the agenda for women leaders challenges and opportunities, will you be able to chair that panel?
It would be a privilege to chair a panel.
Erin Gowriluk, Executive Director, Grain Growers of Canada, Canada
Erin Gowriluk lives in Ottawa where she holds the position of Executive Director of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC). Gowriluk is integral to the organization’s operations and policy work, and advocates to the federal government to make decisions that are in the best interest of the more than 65,000 Canadian grain farmers.
Prior to this, Gowriluk worked as Manager of Government and Industry Relations at Syngenta Canada where she worked to forge collaborative opportunities across Canada’s agri-food value chain. Gowriluk has also held senior policy roles for the Alberta Barley and Alberta Wheat Commissions and worked in policy research for the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Gowriluk holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Victoria’s Royal Roads University.
Q1. Can you talk about your career path- how did you start your career and is this you always wanted to do?
While I am so fortunate that my path led me to the very place where I am today, serving as the Executive Director of the Grain Growers of Canada, I have to admit that ten years ago I never would have imagined that this would be the case. I was introduced to the agriculture sector in a less conventional way – it was through my work in Calgary’s restaurant industry and in particular at a restaurant that prided itself on sourcing fresh ingredients from local farmers. At the time I was also returning to university to finish the degree that I started years ago but this time with a clear sense of direction – policy studies at Mount Royal University. This is where I found so many opportunities to leverage my studies to explore the world of agriculture policy. So many of my colleagues at the time focused their work on energy policy – which made sense at the time living in Calgary. But it was my initial work with Alberta farmers through the restaurant industry and then subsequently with Alberta Agriculture’s Local & Domestic Market Expansion Branch that got me hooked on ag. policy. The issues are endless, they are complex and interesting and knowing that my work has a direct and meaningful impact on Canadian farmers is what gets me excited to go into work everyday (or to my dining room table for the last 1.5 years).
Q2. What has been your motivation to become a leader in a segment of production agriculture?
As Steve Jobs said, “if you are working on something exciting, something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” That has been my experience as long as I have been working in the agriculture sector. While I can’t profess to be pulled by a single vision for the sector, I do find that I tend to live in that space and I think that has been what has motivated me to seek out leadership opportunities. I enjoy thinking about where we ultimately want to end up and finding ways to motivate and inspire those around me to work towards a common vision. It’s that feeling of excitement, that passion that motivates me to lead and it’s something that I want everyone I work with to experience. I think that’s why Marshall Goldsmith’s approach to shared leadership has always resonated with me. I remember learning about Goldsmith when I was completing my Masters of Arts in Leadership at Royal Roads University. His is a concept that centers around empowering individuals and giving them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise.
This approach resonated with me not only because it allowed me to leverage the incredible talent of those working around me, it was also a way to encourage the kind of investment required to fuel passion and excitement! Now, from an organizational perspective, imagine what you can accomplish when everyone on your team feels compelled or “pulled” by a vision. It’s the potential that exists in this space that has motivated me to step into leadership opportunities in the sector.
Q3. If you had to explain a younger woman how you overcame challenges and succeeded in your career, what would you say?
One of the benefits of my experience working at the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions (my first foray into the export-oriented agriculture sector) was the tremendous exposure I was given. It wasn’t long into my tenure there that I was being asked to represent the organization at national tables with sector stakeholders from across the country and from every facet from the agri-food value chain. I was in over my head and loving every minute of it. While the environment was rich with learning opportunities, I was also there to do a job, and that was to represent the interests of my farmer members. I learned quickly that to do that effectively I needed a small but strategic network of subject matter experts and industry leaders that I could learn from. I joined the Commissions in 2013, just a few months before the grain transportation crisis hit that fall. While I was expected to lead this file for our members there were people in our industry who had been working on it for decades - that was a depth of experience and expertise that I simply could not match. My focus was on connecting with those individuals and demonstrating to them that I was worthy of their investment in me. I did my homework, and I came to those conversations with informed questions. I also learned to check my nerves and step up to the microphone at conferences and conventions as a way to not only get the information I needed but to introduce myself to conference attendees/sector stakeholders as someone who should be considered an engaged participant in the conversation.
Another piece of advice I might offer to a younger woman just starting her career in the agriculture sector – find someone who believes in you and your potential. I was so fortunate that when I was first starting out, that person happened to be my boss. He was my greatest champion. Not only was he my mentor (preparing me for those conversations with industry leaders) he was the one who made sure I was always in just a little over my head – how else would I have learned to swim?
Q4. What do you want to see for the future of younger women in their career path in the agriculture Industry?
While my experience in the sector has been mostly positive, I can’t forget a time only a few years ago when I was reminded that women continue to face challenges in our sector. For a sector that is so incredibly innovative and progressive in so many ways, there are traditional influences that continue to persist. For example, a few years ago I had my sights set on an exciting career opportunity that would have required a cross-country move. I contacted the hiring manager, someone I knew in the industry, to express my interest in applying. His response to me that while he felt I was well qualified for the job, he was concerned that a cross-country move wasn’t appropriate given the age of my youngest child who was just under a year at the time. Then he proceeded to ask me if my husband would support the move. For obvious reasons, I didn’t apply, despite my interest.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook cites a commonly referenced statistic from a Hewlett Packard internal report: women tend to apply for a job when they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications. Men, feel confident applying when they believe they meet about 60% of the stated qualifications. And while some could point a lack of confidence on the part of women, perhaps they have simply observed what a McKinsey report found to be true: men are often hired or promoted based on their potential, women for their experience and track record.
I am where I am today because someone saw the potential in me and encouraged me to sit at the table with people more experienced that I was. With that opportunity I brought a fresh perspective, one that perhaps hadn’t been previously considered. Where I lacked the historical context, I saw new possibilities and I didn’t let politics get in the way. It can be tough to sit among sector leaders, especially when you’re one of few women at the table. Have someone in your corner who will support your participation and your growth. Whether you call them a mentor, colleague, a friend or your boss – they can be there for you waiting in the wings to help guide and inform your work and remind you of why you deserve a seat at the table even when you’re feeling like you might be in a little over your head.
Q5. What are your future aspiration personally and professionally?
This is a tough question to answer given that only seven years ago I never could have imagined that I would be where I am today. That to me is what is so exciting about this industry – the possibilities are endless and at times quite surprising.
Sheila Storey, Director, Nemlab, South Africa
Sheila Storey is the owner of Nemlab, a nematode diagnostic laboratory that has been running for 34 years. The laboratory provides a service to producers regarding plant-parasitic nematodes, nematodes as bio-indicators of soil health and mycorrhizae colonization tests. In the last few years, her interest has turned to soil health with particular reference to the role beneficial nematodes play in soil health. Sheila is also the director of NemaBio, a company working towards producing EPNs for the biological control of insects. The exciting challenges she has taken on in the past 10 years has been the establishment of a biopesticide innovation company. With the help of some incredible colleagues, this company took the research on local entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) and built it into a possible biopesticide which, she is hopeful, will take on the local industry. She knew the road would be difficult and but was certain that reward will be incredible.
Q1. You started your own business very early in your career. Did you always want to do something of your own? or was it the realization after working for others?
I always wanted to be a researcher but realized very early in my career that I should rather be an extension officer. I was working for the national government in South Africa at the time and ladies were not allowed to join the extension services. The corporate world became too much for me so I resigned and lectured part a crop protection module at a local university.
I did not find the lecturing as satisfying as I had hoped and after a year I decided it was time to start a family. When I was 4 months pregnant an advisor from an agro-chemical company approached me to analyse a few nematode samples. I declined the offer. The advisor phoned 2 days later and my husband answered the phone. He told the advisor, “of course she will do it!” and the rest as they say is history.
So, to answer the question: No, I never wanted to do something on my own. It was my husband and the advisor who nudged me but it was the best decision I ever made and what a ride it has been!
Q2. What inspires you to go forward in your work and personal growth?
The agricultural industry is dynamic. I love working with producers and fellow advisors going through the diagnostic process and reaching the final answer which is both rewarding for the producer and myself. This is also a huge responsibility and a privilege. I have been exposed to so many different aspects of horticulture, integrated pest management and in so many different regions in our beautiful country. One of the best perks of my job is that I get to travel all over southern Africa. This is one of the aspects of the job I really enjoy.
The business growth is proof that I have taken on many challenges most of which were daunting at first. I have realised that I can be pushed to limits I thought were impossible. I have certainly learned how to handle stress. However, I still I doubt myself and this is the one aspect I feel I need to work on all the time.
There is so much to learn every day in my field which in turn provides opportunities. I have now expanded the diagnostic laboratory to include entomology, plant pathology and most exciting is the establishment of a soil health support centre.
Q3. What were different challenges that came your way in establishing the business? Does being a female entrepreneur pose additional challenges? How did you overcome those?
The most pressing challenge in the beginning was finding clients. At that point in time everything in this country (South Africa) was a free service provided by the government. However, the service was not always satisfying. Commercial advisors did not have access to these services. Asking a producer to pay for a service was a challenge. This all changed when the new government came into power. Free services were no longer available. We were then in the fortunate position where the business was already established and fitted well into the new landscape producers were finding themselves in. Also, we have now reached the point where the legislation hurdles must be crossed.
My second challenge was access to funding. Agriculture was considered a bad investment because producers did not pay. This perception was so wrong. I battled along and certainly as I have grown, this has not been an issue. As they say, “Data is the new oil”!
As a female I have had no challenges in my field. In fact, the opposite has been true. I find that being true to oneself, respecting your clients at all times (yes that can be challenging) and providing the clients with the best service possible is key.
Q4. What advice will you give to young women entering the bioag industry with dreams to soar high?
I have always employed young post-graduate students. I provide them with challenges and help them grow. Teaching them early on to believe in themselves is important. The agricultural field encompasses so much. I advise them to get to know and get involved with other aspects of horticulture and to network. They must learn about the other problems their clients face and be prepared to go the extra mile to help. A satisfied client will always return.
Q5. What are your future aspirations personally and professionally?
I should be retiring soon but leaving after nurturing this business from scratch is a difficult decision. I believe the young ladies taking over are quite capable and hopefully I have left a legacy for them to expand upon.
Finding and interacting with these leaders is very exciting. Their enthusiasm, dedication and determination to move forward and create a better world is contagious. We hope that we are able to do justice with it in bringing this to you. We appreciate time and support of all our readers to keep us going. Also, we are very grateful to these women leaders for taking time out and making this edition possible.
IF YOU KNOW OF ANY SUCH WOMEN LEADER’s SUCCESS STORY, please share with email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org