7 Takeaways from Raines’ Webinar, The Seed: Who’s Your Perfect AgTech Leader?
Raines SVP and Head of Agriculture, Melissa Oszustowicz hosted an engaging webinar on May 27 focused on the challenges of finding great leaders for the agriculture and agtech industry and how to bring more diverse talent into this sector. The discussion featured Renata Dinkelmann, Head of Human Capital at Paine Schwartz Partners; Mark Johnson, CEO of Grainbridge; and Corey Jorgenson, SVP at Indigo. Below, see seven takeaways from the 45-minute webinar on finding your perfect agtech leader. You can also watch the webinar recording at the bottom of the article.
1) Agriculture isn’t just what’s happening at the farm. While the agriculture industry traditionally was viewed as farm-related, Renata pointed out that consumers are often linking agriculture and consumer products, seeing the connection from the seed being planted to the product on the shelf. “I don’t look at the ag industry as the ag industry,” she commented. “I look at the food chain and how we can do it sustainably. It’s a much broader industry than just what’s happening at the farm, and I think that will really excite people to join and make changes.” Corey added that he emphasizes how connected and compelling the agriculture industry can be. “What I love to tell people about is the global nature of this industry, and connect the dots from a farm in Illinois or Argentina to food ingredients or food stuff that ends up on a plate in North Africa,” he said. “You can take it away from ‘This is what farmers do in the middle of the U.S.’ to ‘This is a system that feeds people ultimately’ and I think that’s a really interesting conversation for most.”
2) Great agricultural and agtech leaders don’t need to have an agricultural background or grow up on a farm. When Mark joined Grainbridge as CEO, he was charged with turning the ag company into a software company. So how does that affect hiring? “Any individual role I’d love them to understand agriculture, in particular grain marketing, and be an expert in software development, DevOps, product,” Mark said. “On the other hand, we really need to look at the overall team because we found you can really bring people up to speed in agriculture and combine that group of some people with deep knowledge of ag and someone with deep knowledge of product, and overall that matrix of that team can produce something superior to what either side could separately.” Instead of necessarily looking for that industry experience, determine if the role needs someone who actually must be an expert in the industry or if expertise in the function can be paired with a willingness to learn the field.
3) Think of the future: By bringing in new talent with technology backgrounds, advances in agriculture can explode. “We need more technologists in ag,” Mark said. “If we doubled the pipeline of people from tech coming into ag, we’d accelerate where we’re going to be in ten years. We’d cut that in half probably.”
4) You must be intentional to be more diverse and you need metrics. Whether it’s communicating to recruiters the importance of diverse candidates or opening hiring parameters to remote work, there are conscious steps ag companies can take to increase diversity. Case in point: Ag company locations may limit the diversity of candidates interested in relocating, and tech talent may not be willing to move to the Midwest for an agtech role. “That intentionality coupled with the real ability to think outside the box and bring from different industries and train people opens up a humongous pool, not only on the location side — bringing people to work remotely — but also from different industries,” Renata commented.
5) COVID opened hiring options: COVID opened up a broader talent pool. People needed to be hired and organizations became more flexible about remote or travel work, and that probably won’t change. “The industry has got to get more open-minded about where it sources talent from and be willing to consider [talent] on a remote or travel basis so you can hit population bases that are not necessarily sitting in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota,” Corey said. “The industry misses a huge opportunity if it doesn’t open its mind up a lot bigger. The path of least resistance is that white men are going to like to work in this industry, it’s an absolute loss to the industry, and companies who figure it out faster will win.”
6) Open the conversation: Mark shared that conversations in agriculture often begin with an individual’s agriculture history, but that may be limiting to non-ag people. “You start off calls and everybody talks about their pedigree,” Mark related. “At the high end, it’s ‘I still have a farm I farm on, and I’m going there this weekend,’ on the low end, it’s like ‘my grandparents farmed, and I still like going out to the farm in Iowa,’ but it’s always about your connection back to the farm. I think we do ourselves a great disservice by starting off talking about your pedigree, rather than what you can actually contribute to the conversation that you’re having.”
7) Educate non-ag people through onboarding: Mark shared that Grainbridge recommends books, podcasts, and newsletters on the industry for new hires so between a “combination of self-education and osmosis from the team,” new employees get something like an Ag101 class. “The most helpful thing we did this year was a group reading,” Mark said, where the team read a book on grain marketing together and held weekly discussions, capped off with the book’s author coming to the closing session for a discussion.
View the webinar recording below.
Follow Raines International on LinkedIn or sign up for our newsletters to learn about our upcoming webinars and events. For more information on finding the right agtech leader for your organization, reach out to Melissa Oszustowicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.