They raised cattle and grew corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. Farming was in his blood, but he never thought it would be his life’s work. Pat left the farm for Chicago to pursue an engineering degree from DePaul University. He ended up with a business/finance degree and hoped to find a job in the big city. However, his father’s death just before college graduation changed everything. He went home to the farm and realized that farming was part of who he was. He looked for a way to combine his love of agriculture with his business and engineering savvy. A career in crop consulting seemed like the perfect fit.
Today, Pat works at BRANDT as part of a team that consults with crop growers (farmers) across Illinois. His job is to help growers make decisions and maximize the productivity of every acre they touch, based on agronomic information such as soil testing, product validation, and nutrient composition. His team is made up of two agronomists and a technical systems-specialist. Pat’s goal is to advise growers on how to be stewards of the environment while being agronomically sound; how to produce a better, healthier crop that can feed the world’s growing population; and how to do it in an affordable way for both growers and consumers. After all, according to Pat, “If growers are out of business, we are out of business.”
One of the most common types of agronomic information Pat’s team offers to growers is a soil analysis/profile. His team analyzes the soil and puts the data in an algorithm that helps Pat create a prescription for where nutrients and fertilizer need to be added. In the fall, after the grower has finished harvesting, Pat’s team collects yield information so they can make fertility recommendations. Pat calls soil “precious stuff” and loves the story that it tells, not only about a harvest but also about the history of our nation and our world.
His work with growers also helps the average consumer. “Our role is a benefit to the American citizen because we are doing more with less,” Pat says. “There is less farmland every year in the United States due to urban development and sprawl.” How does Pat do this? “By being more efficient, being good environmental stewards, looking at water management, and producing a healthier crop while leaving the ground in better shape than it was. When we produce the largest crop we can in the most efficient way, it also ensures that supermarket prices are not drastically affected.”
On a typical day, Pat can often be found on the phone or meeting with the “trusted advisors” who are in the field with the growers. He is constantly asking himself how to improve his team’s productivity so that the growers benefit. Pat began his career at a crop consultant firm where he worked for a number of years directly advising growers and selling fertilizer and chemicals. He eventually became certified in agronomy to help him understand both the agronomic and scientific side of the business. When he began to work for BRANDT, he was able to combine the scientific aspects of agronomics with the technological and data analysis side. He soon realized how much sense it made to collect data that could influence a grower’s yield. He began to study the soil’s properties, how much rain a field got, and how new technologies, like hybrid seeds, could help growers. For example, by studying soil properties, a grower can learn what to plant and how much in which part of the field. “If you have sand at one end of a field and silty loam in the other, you must plant a higher population in the loam because of its holding capacity. Sand is too coarse and won’t hold moisture.” Pat sees his role as the “crossroads where agronomy, technology and business merge.”
When asked what advice he would give to young people who want to follow in his path, Pat shared some interesting information. He finds the ability to communicate effectively to be the most important part of his job. “Look for opportunities to take public speaking and to communicate through written and verbal word,” he advises. “Gain experience looking in an adult’s eye and speaking in complete sentences!” He also suggests taking as many science and technology classes as possible to learn all aspects of critical thinking and data analysis. “You can always go back to school to get a business degree, but it’s not as easy to go back to get a science degree.” He also suggests participating in FFA if it is offered. When asked if growing up on a farm is important, he says that there are more and more people joining the agriculture industry with no farming background, and that’s fine. He hopes the industry learns to adapt to the next generation of employee that may have never stepped foot on a farm.
Pat calls working for BRANDT the best part of his job. The company offers him a great deal of independence, and he has the ability to create different technologies and programs. He says that working in agriculture naturally offers a lot of independence. “This is never a nine-to-five job in a cubicle.” The biggest challenge? “We want to be change agents for our clients and the industry as a whole. People have to be willing to change in any business and there can be some resistance to that. Our goal is to change traditional practices if there is a better, more economical way.” There are also long days in agriculture, according to Pat. During some parts of the year, his job can be a seven-days-a week, sunup to sundown. So it’s important to be passionate about it.
Pat encourages young people to really consider the agriculture industry when thinking about a career path. “The agriculture industry as a whole has a tremendous number of job opportunities in addition to a traditional grower including soil scientist, accountant, plant breeding, livestock, engineer, and data analyst.” It’s also important to note that, while the industry is not recession-proof, it’s often the last industry that feels an economic downturn. “Agriculture survives a lot better than other industries because people have to eat and the world population isn’t going to stop growing.”