An Iowa State University Student Walking To Class

A message to college students: Consider ag

Global Food Challenge fellowship expands to attract college students to ag industry

School is back in session and that means at college campuses across the country, students are busy reviewing semester syllabi, securing a seat in lecture halls and catching up with friends. But a group of eleven juniors at six universities are returning to campus with a renewed sense of purposeand a passion for agricultureafter completing the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security fellowship.

Ask this group a year ago whether they’d be back on campus advocating for a career in ag, they might not believe you. But now, after a yearlong crash-course in ag and all things Land O’Lakes, the class of 2016-17 emerging leaders can’t imagine doing anything else as they help recruit for the program’s fourth year. That’s the beauty–letting their experience speak for itself.

Since 2014, the Global Food Challenge has engaged 31 future leaders in the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture in the coming decades. With the global population growing to 9 billion people by 2050, agriculture needs the best and brightest to innovate to feed us all. And because no industry is more central to health and wellness, sustainability, marketing, technology and engineering and more, former emerging leaders are challenging their peers to rethink what they know about agriculture to help close the talent gap.

This fall, Land O’Lakes is upping its commitment to changing the campus narrative and draw a broader mix of skills and experiences to the ag industry by expanding the Global Food Challenge program to sophomores of all majors at 11 eligible universities across the United States.

“A career in modern agriculture is as dynamic as the industry itself,” says Lydia Botham, vice president, Community Relations, Land O’Lakes, Inc. “We encourage students from all majors to consider the growing industry that is food and ag, and discover how they can be instrumental in helping to feed a growing global population and eliminating food insecurity here in the U.S. and around the world.”

After the first two years of the program, 85 percent of students were offered second internships with Land O’Lakes in areas ranging from Community Relations, Supply Chain, Information Technology, Government Relations and more. And for some, one fateful freshman-year application to an internship in 2014 led to a full-time job in an industry they never want to leave.

Emerging leaders emerge as leaders

Olivia Riecks grew up working on her family’s farm in Iowa. She recently graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Economics and Supply Chain Management and started in a full-time position with our Supply Chain Talent Acceleration Program (TAP) this June. But it wasn’t Olivia’s plan to go back to the farm.

“I’m proud to have grown up on the farm. But I was a business major and my whole idea was to go to a big city,” says Olivia.

It wasn’t until learning more about Land O’Lakes’ Global Food Challenge program in the fall of 2014 from her college adviser that Olivia had given agriculture as a career a second thought. Given her roots on the farm, she was innately interested in ag. But how could she apply her interests in continuous improvement, food waste and market access to the operation she’d been exposed to growing up? Enter the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security program.

Designed to spur thinking about food security issuesthink things just like Olivia’s interests in food waste and market access–emerging leaders are paired with university advisors to complete assignments throughout the schoolyear. After building their baseline of understanding for Land O'Lakes and the ag industry, during the summer, they develop proposals for Land O’Lakes to address an agricultural or food insecurity challenge. They also travel to rural agriculture cooperatives and farms across the United States, meet with policymakers in Washington, D.C. and visit Land O’Lakes International Development projects in Africa.

“I’m so proud to say I work at Land O’Lakes because I’ve seen what we do in local communities here and around the world,” says Olivia. “I joined the company because I'm interested in food security. I want to be part of the generation–and industry–that makes a difference.”

After the Global Food Challenge, Olivia made her way to the business role in the big city she’d dreamed about, spending the summer 2015 as a Land O’Lakes supply chain intern in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That experience led her to where she is today.

“The diversity of people I work with is proof that Land O’Lakes wants anyone that’s hardworking, innovative and smart. When I applied, I never thought I would’ve been chosen for the Global Food Challenge. Two years later, it’s hands down the best thing that’s ever happened.”

Changing the narrative

Jacquelyn Brown and Trey Forsyth echo Olivia’s experience. Members of the inaugural class of emerging leaders, both joined Land O’Lakes full-time in June: Jacquelyn in the Supply Chain TAP and Trey on the Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN team. Both had exposure to agriculture growing up and at college, they experienced misconceptions from their peers on campus.

“Coming from an ag background, it was easy to get frustrated with people who don’t understand ag. The Global Food Challenge helped me take a step back and approach the conversation differently. We got to share the cool opportunities within the industry, and share our story to help recruit the next generation,” says Trey. “I learned more in my year than I ever could’ve imagined and that all started by putting myself out there and applying for this life-changing experience.”

With the applications open now for the class of 2017-18, Jacquelyn has one piece of advice for those eligible and interesteddon’t let the opportunity pass you by.

“Yes, it's about food production, but that doesn’t mean you need an ag background. Open your eyes to an industry that you’ve never considered. You see everything from policy to production so it's great exposure to all things ag,“ says Jacquelyn. “And because we’re the generation that will shift the conversation, drawing in more and more people with diverse experiences will help us show there is so much more to ag than you might think.”