Shannon is the Senior Vice President and Head of Crop Technology for soybeans for Bayer in the U.S. She is responsible for the Research and Development (R&D) strategy for soybeans.
What do you do?
I work with our commercial organization to ensure that our R&D organization delivers soybean products and crop protection solutions that benefit farmers, society, and the environment. My team works with regions around the world where soybeans are grown to identify problems facing farmers. Once problems are identified, we explore all the possible approaches to developing solutions and transfer that knowledge to the R&D organization, so they can focus on innovating to develop those solutions. The challenge is that oftentimes the answer to a problem takes 12 or more years to develop, so we must have a good understanding of what problems farmers will face in the future.
Why do you love your job?
I am exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of innovation and the farm. I love working with people in this industry, from R&D scientists where the innovation happens, all the way through the development path to the farmer who will grow the seeds and benefit from the technologies.
I have a strong connection to the farm. My parents continue to grow corn and soybean, and benefit from modern agriculture technologies. My husband and I – along with our two children – live on a small farm where we grow sweet corn for a local market. We started this venture, because we are farmers at heart, and we wanted our children to have a similar connectivity to the farm that we had as children. It’s been a great joy to connect with our customers and see first-hand their appreciation for the care we put into our sweet corn.
How did you get here?
I grew up and worked on our family’s corn, soy and livestock farm in Southern Minnesota and was active in 4-H and FFA; American youth organizations. My two years working at Asgrow Seed Company, while I was an undergraduate at Iowa State University led me to pursue a career in agriculture and science. I loved the combination of science, being outside, and connecting with people. I went on to earn M.S. and PhD degrees in Plant Sciences from North Dakota State University. My first job out of graduate school allowed me to do what I loved most: connecting science, great products, field research, and farmers.
What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?
Agriculture needs young women to not only be part of the industry but to step up and lead. According to data from Yankelovich Monitor and Greenfield Online, women make up 85% of consumer spend, and many of these women are in cities with little understanding of where food comes from. Young women can use social media to advocate for modern agriculture and share their perspectives with peers who want to know if their food is grown in a safe and sustainable manner.
How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?
We need to focus more on connecting to the consumer. Consumers today have a high interest in where their food was grown, but they’re unfamiliar with farming. We need to help the consumer see that farmers have a great sense of responsibility in producing a safe, plentiful, and nutritious food supply in a sustainable way. Farmers have the most to lose if they are not good stewards of land, water, and energy. We need to help consumers understand the great care that goes into producing food along the entire value chain.
Also women today are not just decision makers at the grocery store, they are decision makers on the farm, in business and in board rooms. Women need to have a seat at every table where there are decisions being made. While it’s important to attract young women to agriculture, it’s equally important to develop them as leaders. Our industry will be at its best when men and women are leading together.
What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?
Throughout my career as a woman in agriculture, I have struggled with not being recognized as credible and accountable. I had to work twice as hard in those early days. It was a challenge I happily accepted, but it was also an exhausting one. There were many times in my early career days working with customers when I was known as ‘the blonde girl from Monsanto’ or the ‘the blonde from St. Louis’.
I laugh at that today, because it means they didn’t forget me. Once they realized I was knowledgeable, accountable, could solve problems, and really cared about my work and my customers, they were eager to collaborate. Interestingly, some of those first connections became my biggest supporters, and they pushed me hard to succeed. Those early days taught me the importance of confidence, perseverance and taking risks. My managers at that time, all of whom were men, provided amazing support and became advocates for me in my career. When I became a manager, they served as great examples of how to support a team.
Shannon is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.