26 Feb “What’s it Like to Work for Monsanto?” with Hannah Neuenschwander
Everybody knows that the products farmers harvest start out as a seed. But have you ever stopped to think where they get the seed? Or how a farmer knows the seeds they purchased will actually produce the amount of crop they need?
Thankfully for farmers, there are career professionals who make sure every seed they plant are in tip, top shape.
The hands behind the seed
Meet Hannah Neuenschwander, a Seed Production Manager for Monsanto in Williamsburg, Iowa. Monsanto has different plant production managers for each type of crop that oversee what goes on in the fields and packaging plants.
As production manager, Hannah’s job is to inventory and distribute all of Monsanto’s North American pre-commercial corn seed.
“I’m in the plant,” Hannah said. “Since farming and agriculture is seasonal during the winter I spend a lot of time inside, but during the summer I do get to go out to the field and take observations and things like that. It’s a little bit of everything.”
The process to seed production
It can take more than a decade for corn seeds to be ready to be planted by farmers. The seed the farmers plant is a hybrid seed, so her step of corn seed production, Hannah produces the inbred seed that will make up those hybrids.
The initial seed production process starts with a corn breeder who looks for native traits from all over the world that will help develop superior inbreed lines of corn. The breeders spend 7 to 10 years developing conventional, non-GMO, inbred lines that have really great genetics. From there, the seed goes to a group that integrates the trait package wanted.
“I had a breeder describe it to me really well once,” Hannah said. “He said, ‘You can think of genetic engineering as a way to protect the potential of genetics that breeders like him spent a decade developing.’ I thought that was a really cool way to look at it.”
After the trait integration process, the seeds come to Hannah’s pre-commercial corn facility. They plant 60 to 80 rows of the inbred seed to hand pollinate themselves.
“Our job is basically to increase it to a quantity that it can be increased further and also to purify it and do a lot of quality and genetic tests to make sure that we have the trait that we want, we don’t have any traits that we don’t want, (and) that it’s homozygous.”
Her facility then harvests everything by hand, sits the seeds on a dryer bed for two to three days until it dries, shells it and then packs it. Theoretically, in Hannah’s facility a seed can go from field to bag in about two to three days.
From Hannah’s facility, the seed is distributed to several internal customers like Monsanto’s next pre-commercial corn site or other seed facilities that determine which inbred corn seeds should be crossed to make the best hybrids.
The next pre-commercial group grows the seeds produced by Hannah’s facility by the acre to test that the ideal traits are preserved on a larger scale. The seeds are then sent to a commercial plant where they are crossed to produce the hybrid seed farmers grow.
The career path to Monsanto
Hannah grew up in the Texas Hill Country where row crops were nonexistent. She landed her job at Monsanto after dropping her resume off at the Monsanto booth at a career fair during her last semester at Texas A&M University.
Despite her lack of knowledge about seed production at the time, Hannah believes Monsanto offered her a job based on her extracurricular leadership activities.
“One thing that I’ve learned since coming here is Monsanto has a lot of diverse people that work for them,” she said. “They look for the ability to communicate, collaborate, be inclusive, lead teams — it’s a lot more about the soft skills that you have verses maybe what you went to school for.”
Hannah worked as a production associate for two years before being promoted to her current position of production manager one year ago.
“It’s kind of cool because you’re expected to be promoted,” she said. “They don’t want you in that role long-term. I’ve been production manager here for one year and I expect to be here for a couple more and then it’s on to the next thing.”
For those looking to pursue a career with Monsanto, Hannah highly recommends completing a summer internship with the company.
“I think in my situation, the best advice I have is to keep an open mind because the world has something planned for you that you have never imagined,” she said. “In my case, I had my mind set on animal science and if I hadn’t taken a chance on a company with seed production — which I knew zero about — I wouldn’t have ended up in this career that I really love.”
To learn more about Monsanto and seed production, follow Hannah online:
Twitter: @hannahaggie2014 https://twitter.com/hannahaggie2014
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