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Crossing the Finish Line: Back to St. Louis

Just a glimpse of the Monsanto main campus in St. Louis.

Just a glimpse of the Monsanto main campus in St. Louis.

Just as our internship this summer began with a training week in St. Louis, MO at the company headquarters, we finish with a final wrap-up week back at the same location. While the first week was all about preparing us for our role and helping us to understand what to expect, the final week is all about recapping our experiences and gauging what we learned throughout our time with the company.

After catching up with friends and sharing our own adventures, we worked on adding finishing touches to our presentations, practicing our deliveries, and brushing up on our interview questions. The day after our arrival, we all broke out into different groups to present our corporate projects with our student teams and mentors. Each student was evaluated by the designated mentors with a form, which would eventually be used to critique our possible return for another internship or trainee position after the conclusion of the week. In my case, I gave two presentations: One was the wrap-up of my summer experience with brief comments about my corporate project, and one solely dedicated to the Vistive Gold project to the special analytics team (the rest of the students combined their comments about their summers and projects into one presentation). We were asked to give two because this was the first time data regarding grain-handling facilities was recorded and they wanted to get an idea for it right away.

After a break from presenting, everyone had the opportunity to sign up for an interview slot. For rising seniors, they could interview to be DSMTs (District Sales Manager Trainees), and for rising juniors, they could interview to be retuning interns. I decided to interview for the returning role, which I can gladly say I was offered another position that I accepted for the summer of 2016.

Later in the day, all of the interns had the chance to sit down and eat lunch with their St. Louis connection, or an employee at the headquarters who somewhat acted as a “link” or a “sponsor” just to be there to answer questions and provide guidance over the course of the internship. I was already well acquainted with mine prior to the beginning of the internship, as I had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis in December of 2014 to meet with different individuals in roles across the company as hosted by an upper-level member of Monsanto, which I am very grateful for as it gave me the chance to get to know many people before arriving. My St. Louis mentor and I talked about where I could take my experience with Monsanto in the future, and it really helped capture my interest in post-graduate careers.

As the few days wrapped up, we turned in our equipment and vehicles and prepared our trips back home, all leaving with a great experience, good friends, and a new perspective in working in the agricultural business world. I am nothing short of impressed with the company and the learning opportunity they provided us. See you next summer, Monsanto!

The power ladies of the Vistive Gold project & our mentor.

The power ladies of the Vistive Gold project & our mentor.

A remarkable experience at a remarkable company.

A remarkable experience at a remarkable company.

Corporate Project: A Crash Course in Customer Relations & Test Markets

Vistive Gold infographic.

Vistive Gold infographic.

All Monsanto Field Sales interns have a corporate project to complete as the final portion of their internship. These range from agronomy to marketing to brand assessment to data collection, etc. My group of five young women from different universities was assigned to work with the Monsanto brand Vistive Gold. Before describing the project, a brief history of the product is essential to understanding the purpose.

Vistive soybeans were designed to be high-oleic, meaning a lower amount of trans fat and saturated fat with the primary intent of reduce hydrogenated oils used in cooking and the food industry, leading to a healthier overall product. However, the first phases of the product (Vistive I-III) either never made it to the market or were not found desirable by the producers, noting a considerable yield drag. After revamping the product, Monsanto came out with Vistive Gold. Before pushing growers to produce it in large quantities, the company needed to do research to see where it would logistically make the most sense to push production. This is where our group came it.

Assigned over eight hundred different seed dealers across Ohio and Illinois under national brands (Asgrow & Dekalb), my job for the first eight weeks of the summer was to call my given dealer network to understand the grain handling capacities of each business. If the business had an elevator or grain storage system with their seed facility, I would then ask them about the size of their storage and their ability to handle specialty grains, as Vistive Gold soybeans would have to be handled as such. All of this data was recorded into a program called Salesforce, which then could be digitally analyzed and mapped out to get an idea of the distances from shipping facilities to storage sites.

While this process seemed tedious at first, it went quickly after the first few weeks. Collecting the data could be done at any time, and I would often then enter the numbers into Salesforce at the end of the day when I got back to my apartment. Towards the middle of July I began the data analysis portion of the project, looking into different factors such as Monsanto sales percentage in the region as well as grain facility capacity, preferences, and transportation methods. All of this was written into a final presentation that would be given at the end of the summer to my advisor board as well as a special Vistive Gold team.

As much as calling seed dealers to survey them sounds simple, there was often complication in the process. Many times seed dealers just wouldn’t answer, or rarely I would call a seed dealer who would not want to answer my questions because they felt it was invasive even though they were still a part of the Monsanto network. I even had one particular person on the phone that became very verbally upset that information was none of my business. Those situations were often uncomfortable to deal with, but also not unmanageable. I usually patiently listened to what they had to say, apologized for the inconvenience, and thanked them for their time. As infrequently as these occurrences happened, they were still standout, and it really helped me to understand the importance of a personal connection in sales – even if it is just a survey. The overall project itself though gave me a new perspective on developing a product, looking at the importance of logistics before planning the marketing mix.

Collecting data and entering it into Salesforce.

Collecting data and entering it into Salesforce.

Field Scouting: Corn & Soybean CSI

An example of my scouting reports.

An example of my scouting reports.

Now that the corn and soybean fields have come up and the stands are well on their way, it’s prime time to be scouting the fields for early season disease, damage, and nutrient deficiency. These days are almost always spent by myself on a particular grower, driving around to about a dozen fields walking the crop, taking measurements, and recording observations with notes and pictures. Scouting for the top ten growers in my area has been assigned to me by my DSM as my regional project, one of the three projects that must be done in order to successfully complete my internship. This project had to provide a benefit to the sales region, and this gives my DSM and the Channel brand more communication touch-points throughout the season with the grower (we aim for about four main in-field connections from planting to harvest).

Now something that I have noticed about my experience with seed dealers in the Midwest versus seed dealers in the Northeast is that often, salesmen are only really there when the sale is being made and when the results are being calculated. At home in Iowa, our farm is used to having seed dealers and salesmen checking in with us at all stages of the growth process to ensure that we are satisfied with the product so far. This is uncommon for this area I am working in, and Channel is bringing that element into seed sales in this region of the US, as it was designed primarily to bring Monsanto-quality genetics with a higher level of personal service.

I collect my maps for the day and plan a route before I leave, mostly to save time and limit my driving distance so I don’t have to backtrack in a particular area. With my tools such as a seed pick, pocket field guide, spade, measuring tape, and a pretty strong agronomy background, I’m off to check up on the crops. The first field of the day is soybeans, which seems to be the popular crop this year. I walk out into the field a ways and start by looking over the leaves for foliar damage or feeding. Next, I dig up the plant to observe the roots. All too often, this part is overlooked and it is important to the overall level of plant health. I see some small nodules starting to form, but a few signs of root limiting with the soil compaction as a result of a no-till system. I notice some leaf discoloration in the wetter areas of the field, which could be the result of numerous things. I have an idea of what disease it could be, but just to be sure I refer to my field guide. Eventually I find the page and my suspicions are confirmed: this grower has a little Brown Spot, which is not unusual for the cool, wet weather. I do a few quick stand counts, noting that the population looks good, and finish up the walkthrough while taking a few pictures.

In the cornfields, the procedure is fairly similar (it’s just harder to walk through, especially when the corn gets tall). Because of the early May frost this part of the country received, some of the corn was damaged after planting. If it didn’t corkscrew back into the ground after imbibing cold water as it germinated, the corn plant shows some signs of frost damage on the leaves, or a few didn’t even emerge. This was an issue with quite a few growers this year, but the reality is that you can’t control the weather. I see some cases of phosphorus deficient in a few fields and a lack of sulfur in others, all of which can be fixed by fertilizer applications. A few weeds are starting to sprout up in fields, so I make a note of what kinds I see and perhaps make a spray recommendation.

Taking more photos, I see that some of these fields have issues with compaction as well, and that the end rows are particularly behind in growth stage as compared to the majority of the field. Field signs aren’t up yet, and my DSM and I probably won’t place them until after the corn tassels, but I know what varieties are in which fields with my maps, and it’s easy to see which ones are performing better. I make a mental note to report my observations on this to my DSM – he’ll find it interesting. I pull a corn plant out (they’re still small enough where I don’t have to dig them) and look at the roots. No visible rootworm feeding, which is more of an issue where I am from rather than the NE. So far, so good: I’ll be sure to check back up on this grower’s fields in another few days.

With all of my pictures and notes, I head back to my apartment at the end of the day to type up my reports. This is very important, as the reports have all of my comments and pictures that I can share with my grower and DSM in a detailed format. I create the write-ups and have my DSM proofread them later in the evening through email before I send it out the farmer, just to make sure all of my information is accurate and consistent. In the morning, I get an email back from the farmer asking if he should put down some in-season nitrogen, to which I reply it may be a beneficial application. Being able to share information and make recommendations with my farmers has been a both a rewarding and challenging experience, pushing me to think critically and problem solve, as well as put my agricultural knowledge to the test.

Root development.    Phosphorus deficiency.     Brown spot on soybean.


Root development, phosphorous deficiency, and soybean brown spot.


Grower Visits: Building Relationships 101

My DSM visiting a grower.

My DSM visiting a grower.

Throughout the summer, one of my tasks I described in the introduction post was meeting with growers throughout the sales district held by my DSM (District Sales Manager). Being in sales, the need for connection is the basis of a successful sale. In order to make the sale, you need to create a relationship with your customer to build trust and reliability, as well as a sense of loyalty to gain a returning client base. While all of these aspects are essential, no two of my visits have been the same. Each looks for different ways to make those connections, each customer looks for a different kind of advice, and a different level of attention to their product portfolio and operation. For the purpose of this post, I’d like to walk you through a typical day of making a couple farm visits to some well-established customers.

Usually, all of my days begin by meeting up with my DSM in order to go over the plan for the day. Some days I’m scouting, some days I’m making seed deliveries (which is wrapping up now that planting is just about over), and today, we will be making a few calls on growers. I follow him in my truck for the hour trip west into Pennsylvania, multi-tasking by joining on one of the intern class bi-weekly conference call sessions held by our team lead to check up on our progress. As we arrive to the farm, the grower is out in his shop working on some equipment. My DSM and I enter the building, saying hello and asking how his family is. Knowing his personality, this family is very family-oriented and this is a great way to open up conversation for the rest of the morning. From there, we start to discuss what we saw in the fields on our last visit, especially now that heavy rains have really affected the crop. After about an hour casual evaluation and commentary, the three of us jump into the truck to begin a bit of a farm tour.

Getting to the first field, we see that the incredible amount of rain have washed gullies into the ground and washed away some spots, which is not uncommon for the hilly ground. The growers notices that with his recent planting, the beans were very young and some of them “washed,” or were removed from the location where they were planted, leaving “skips” in the row. He made a comment to my DSM that he might just cultivate the beans back into the soil with a field cultivator and replant. Before telling him to go ahead with the decision and enacting the seed replant policy the Channel company offers, my DSM offers to give the field a brief look-over. After I grabbed the trusty field from the truck, we walked throughout the field and counted the number of missing plants in comparison to the 1/10 of an acre measurement in comparison to the intended planting population. We repeated this a few times, then came to the conclusion that it would not be necessary to replant, as the loss was not too great and the existing bean plants would compensate for the amount of space.

While this was the recommendation given by my DSM and I, we are still here to listen to the customer. Our grower decided that he would not replant, but if so, we would be ready to deliver him new seed when ready. The goal is to maintain the customer, and maintain the sale, hence through meeting the grower’s needs. Getting back into the truck, we visited a few more fields to do some “stand counts” (seeing how many plants emerged as a measure of weather conditions and seed quality) to check on the success of planting post-weather.

As any customer visits goes, it wouldn’t be complete unless we took the grower for lunch. While this may seem over-the-top to some, it not only shows a friendly gesture to the farmer indicating that we are glad to have their business, it also provides another good opportunity to sit down in a casual setting to discuss their ideas and perceptions of the products and what they would like to see. This is very important, as it gives my DSM and I an idea of how to better manage their account and to understand how we can incorporate ourselves into their production goals. Wrapping up lunch, we thanked him for his time and the chance to walk some fields with him as a grower’s time is very valuable. Next, it was time to drive to our second visit.

The second grower doesn’t have as long of a relationship or one that is as well-built as the grower we just visited, as the first one has been doing business with my DSM for years. This farmer is older, yet new to the company after a disagreement with the salesman of his old brand. This means that this customer and account has to be dealt with more carefully (not to say that we do not deal with accounts with equal care, this one just must be treated with a greater sense of professionalism rather than a sense of friendship). I have not met this farmer before, and as soon as I arrive I pleasantly introduce myself as an intern of the company in order to clear any questions about my presence on his operation. My DSM and I do similar activities as the first, asking questions about the status of his fields and his feelings about this year’s seed varieties, as well as visit a few fields. The grower is hesitant about some of the seed choices he’s picked out for the year, but my DSM knows the product line up inside out and can help explain the features of each variety and how it will benefit his production model. Hopefully by the end of the summer, I will also be able to know the products on a level where I feel comfortable making recommendations to the farmers.

As the visit comes to an end, we take a couple empty seed boxes back with us in the beds of our trucks. These big black boxes hold 50 units of corn seed (one unit of corn seed is 80,000 seeds, so that’s four million seeds, and at 52 lbs. a unit, that’s 2,600 lbs. of corn not counting the weight of the heavy plastic box itself) and are used to ship large quantities of seeds to growers as opposed to the bagged seed, which one bag equals one unit of seed. After the trek back to the main warehouse, one of the sub-dealers jumps on the forklift and stacks the boxes up, which they will eventually be loaded onto a semi truck and hauled back to the seed packing facilities to be reused.

While I said no two grower visits are the same, they are all equally enjoyable getting to know the farmers, as well as building up my own relationships to practice the skill of maintain the sale through loyalty and interest in the customer. I have a feeling this will come in handy throughout my career, no matter where I go.

Luke, one of the sub-dealers, is stacking up empty boxes to be reused.

Luke, one of the sub-dealers, is stacking up empty boxes to be reused.

The gully washed into the first grower's field as a result of the massive rains.

The gully washed into the first grower’s field as a result of the massive rains.

From Cornell to Channel: My Summer with Monsanto

Channel BagsMy name is Hannah Riensche and I am a rising junior concentrating in business. For a quick background on myself, I am from a conventional corn and soybean farm in northeast Iowa that my family has owned and operated for the last six generations. I am primarily interested in crop sciences and agronomy.

This summer, I am interning for Channel Bio, LLC (or just Channel for short). The Channel seed company has had an interesting past, originating in 1999 and then was subsequently sold to Monsanto in 2004. In 2009, Monsanto took three more acquired seed companies (Crow’s, Midwest Seed Genetics, and NC+) and combined them together under the Channel name. Today, Channel is one of three seed “divisions” under Monsanto, the others being National brands (Dekalb, Deltapine, & Asgrow) and regional brands like Krueger, Hubner, Lewis, etc.) For those unfamiliar with what seed companies are, Channel sells bulk corn, soybean, alfalfa, and sorghum seed for farmers across the East, Midwest, and Great Plains.

For my internship, I am living next to the PA/OH border on the Ohio side, and go back and forth every day meeting with farmers in eastern Ohio, western New York, and mostly western Pennsylvania. For me, the most rewarding aspect of this internship is having the ability to meet with farmers and hear from a first-person perspective their thoughts, goals, and concerns within their agricultural location. Under a salesman who “owns” these accounts, I go visit these farms with the pretense of learning rather than sales as an intern, which opens up the growers to discuss how they perceive the products offered by the Channel brand. Often, I will go walk fields with growers to observe the crop performance and even make agronomic recommendations.

However, this is not the only thing I do within the internship. Monsanto has a very structured program for their students, requiring that the participating individuals perform three projects over the course of the summer. The first is that students must meet and build a relationship with approx. forty different growers. Second, we must do a project constructed especially for our area by our District Sales Managers and Area Business Managers. My project is doing field scouting and reports for the top ten growers in the district. Lastly, we must complete a corporate project that is assigned to us upon arrival at our training week in St. Louis. My corporate project is contacting the seed dealer network to survey and record grain handling facilities to eventually collaborate with a new product, then compile and map the data. This will be presented at our wrap-up week in St. Louis at the end of the internship.

So far, the experience I have had with Monsanto and Channel has been unmatched to anything I have done before. Not only is the sales team I work under full of dedicated and incredible people, but the knowledge of the business I have gained and the networking I have been able to do with my passionate inter-peer class have really made this a top-notch opportunity. While moving to a new place under a new company may have been difficult at first, it has paid off in more ways imaginable.

This is me scouting soybeans in the early growing season.

This is me scouting soybeans in the early growing season. Cool weather and lots of rain left plenty of room for concerns.

My DSM (green shirt) out with a grower looking at a test plot comparing varieties of seed side-by-side.

My DSM, Steve (green shirt), out with a grower looking at a test plot comparing varieties of seed side-by-side.

Growers from all over West PA get together for dinner and a guest speaker on grain marketing advice.

Growers from all over West PA get together for dinner and a guest speaker on grain marketing advice.

This is corn affected by cold weather. Lots of farmers in the area saw this in fields planted in early May, as temperatures dropped down to 28° unexpectedly in the middle of the month.

This is corn affected by cold weather. Lots of farmers saw this in fields planted in early May, as temperatures dropped to 28°.



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