She stops traffic going in two directions, waves traffic forward in two other directions, and – at the same time – attends to a stalled car.
That scenario is a pretty fair description of Lori Woodard’s job. What it takes is organization, problem-solving, good communication, and a healthy dose of unflappable calm.
Lori is in charge of distributing products at PotashCorp.’s operation in Aurora, N.C., where phosphate is open-mined for use in fertilizers. Phosphorous – along with nitrogen and potassium – is a major crop nutrient and the soil around Aurora, where paleontologists also collect and study fossils, is rich in the phosphate mineral.
Once it is mined, processed, and loaded onto trucks, rail cars, and barges, it is Lori’s job to oversee its trip around the world and to terminals where it’s available for agricultural use.
For growers, it’s just one option for getting the highest yields from their farms – whether they’re growing soybeans, wheat, or other crops. Before each growing season, they take soil samples that show them what nutrients might be missing following an earlier crop’s harvest. Working with local agricultural extension offices, they might decide that a parcel of land now needs more nitrogen or more phosphorous, Lori explains. They then choose fertilizers – liquid or solid – that combine the nutrients that are needed most.
“It makes the growing of large amounts of food possible,” Lori says. “Along with education and technology,” she adds, the customization of fertilizers has positioned growers to feed more people.
But first, it needs to get to them and at PotashCorp, Lori is tasked with the logistics of doing that. Each day, her goal is to get the product to multiple destinations – on time and on budget. For a lot of shipments, that means using rail cars. Lori ensures the continuous movement of the cars, oversees the contractor for on-site repairs and orders new cars from the railroad if they are needed. She then works with engineers loading them to make sure the entire order is accounted for. She applies the same process to deliveries going by truck and by barge down the nearby Pamlico River. Each one of the deliveries – and her decisions are tracked by computer, and safety, as it is throughout the fertilizer industry, is one of her major priorities.
“It is a lot of things at once,” she laughs, but she enjoys the diversity of the people she works with – from rail engineers to tug-boat captains to executives in the Saskatchewan corporate office. She also enjoys the diversity of her responsibilities and the fact that she’s always learning.
If Lori seems as if she was born to do her job, it actually took some time to find her niche.
In high school, she enjoyed learning and took a wide variety of classes, but, “I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she says. She took all of her school’s college prep courses, “and I still didn’t know.” She did know she enjoyed being outside. She had grown up hunting and fishing with her father and spent weekends and summers on her grandfather’s farm and she has always been active in sports.
So, returning home after realizing she “was not prepared for college life,” she looked for a job that would allow her to be outdoors at least part of the time. PotashCorp, Aurora’s largest employer, hired her as a traffic coordinator helping to arrange the delivery of phosphate ore around the world.
That was six years ago. Lori has since moved up the ladder and is now a key link between PotashCorp. operations and the chain of distributors that keeps it in business.
Based on her personal experience, Lori is a big believer in keeping an open mind when it comes to careers. She tells both middle- and high-school students that it’s “OK not to know” exactly where they will fit. She advises taking a well-rounded course load and being open to a wide variety of opportunities. It also helps to know and appreciate your own innate skills. For Lori, that meant recognizing her math aptitude, as well as her skills in solving problems and juggling multiple priorities.
“There’s no telling what students will stumble across,” she says, if they take advantage of both their own and acquired knowledge. But, right now,” she says, “agriculture is a great field to go into!”