How Farmers Edge turns young people into business leaders
Nikki Tomoniko never intended to work in agriculture. In the spring of 2018, young Neepawa, Man. A woman was looking for a summer job when a family friend mentioned that Farmers Edge had a new internship program and was trying to find students for her Alberta office.
Tomoniko was studying English and French at university and wasn’t sure the farm input company would be interested in her skills, but she applied anyway.
She got the job.
It’s been an intense learning curve, says Tomoniko. His family operates a third-generation grain farm, and before he left for Alberta, his grandfather gave him a crash course in the basics – types of soil, stages of plant growth, and how to talk to farmers.
“He said, ‘Farmers are not people to be taken lightly. If you don’t know something, you have to say you don’t know it.
The first week as an intern, Tomoniko trained on FE’s FarmCommand platform, and then received a list of around 25 clients. A company representative took her to the farms to meet the farmers on her list. After that, she scheduled weekly farm tours and went out on her own. But she never felt without support.
“I had great communication with the agronomists and frequently texted them to identify diseases, and my boss to check,” she says. “I’m someone who asks a lot of questions, but I’ve always felt listened to. And I had a lot of farmers who took me to their fields and explained to me the difference between tan spot and leaf rust.
At the end of the summer, all interns were invited to make presentations to senior management about their experiences in the field and the stories they had gathered from the farmers.
Wade Barnes, CEO of Farmers Edge, attended this first round of intern presentations and was blown away. “It was our client’s voice coming from the students,” he says.
“There were a few who were superstars. Nikki was not only in touch with customers, but also gave us feedback on what FE needs to do to improve customer engagement. I thought, ‘This is amazing. We have to do it again.
Tomoniko returned for a second and then a third summer at Farmers Edge before being hired on a permanent basis as Customer Success Manager, or CSM. In her current role, she is the first point of contact for over 50 Manitoba farmers.
It was all a huge revelation in farming today. “The most important thing for me to remember is that there is a place for someone with my communication skills and background,” she says.
“I never thought of farming as a career path I could follow. But there is so much more to farming than being in the tractor and sowing.
“Write and develop”
The Farmers Edge Internship Program has grown since its launch in 2018 as an experimental solution to a problem.
“One of the things we realized was that we would have a salesperson who would sell to the farmer and an operations team who would set up the technology for the farmer and then leave,” says Barnes. “We realized that the farmer would come to the end of the season and stop using the technology. They were like, ‘I forgot the password. I don’t know if I see value in it. ‘”
To close the gap, FE formed a Customer Success Team that followed customers throughout the growing season. There was an immediate increase in adoption and use of the tools.
“But we realized that was not enough – we need to have as many connections as possible in the first year and then follow up. We thought, who better to connect with customers than the kids from the farm to the university? Barnes said.
The company began recruiting from colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. That summer, she hired 15 interns in the United States and 10 in Canada.
In 2019, interns – many of which FE had rehired for a second summer – had an even greater impact, says Barnes. The students who had worked for FE the previous year were already “baptized” and knew the ropes. Students who had worked for agrochemicals companies had a steeper learning curve, he says.
“If you’re a summer student for Bayer, you can be a summer student for Syngenta next summer. We are completely different, ”he says. “In the chemical and seed industry, summer hires set up panels and plots… Selling a digital platform to a producer and explaining how to use it to get value is different. It’s personalized, and you have to explain the story. The grower will say, “Hank, the seed manager says I need Roundup Ready seeds. We say, “How about looking at all the data? “
Barnes says interns bring so much value that at the end of the summer, they miss them when they return to school.
“The majority of the very strong that we are trying to bring back again. Interns who have spent a second summer fit in perfectly and begin to move up the ranks quickly. It has become essential for our organization. This is our version of the “draft and development” of professional hockey, ”he said.
Jeff Poppel, vice president of global customer services for FE, says the program has evolved and grown over the past three years. This year, the company hired 30 interns in the United States and Canada.
“Our main objectives are the same: we promote customer engagement. And we really want to focus on finding our next level or group of employees, ”he says.
The company is looking for students with agricultural experience who are comfortable with public speaking. “We are looking for a passion for agriculture and agricultural technology,” he says. “Determination and work ethic are important. We are ready to invest in you if you are ready to invest in us. We want to train you and prepare you for success. Those people we hire who show passion and determination – their growth can be accelerated within the organization. “
An internship at Farmers Edge is less of a mentoring program and more of a recruiting pipeline. (The company has publicly hinted that a formal mentorship is on the way, but at the time of writing, it wasn’t ready to talk about it.) But the investment required to make the mentorship work is marked throughout. of the process.
Kris Kinnaird is Product Marketing Manager for FE. He’s worked with each of the company’s interns – over 100 since the program began, he says. About 15 percent of them ended up in full-time positions, but many of them have not yet completed their education and may still land a job with the company.
A farmer who uses FE products himself, Kinnaird studied agricultural business at the University of Manitoba. When he started working for FE about five years ago, he started out with basic installations of the company’s hardware and software, but quickly rose through the ranks.
“Over the past five years, I have had a few different mentors or leaders who have helped me grow to where I am now – being drawn into high level meetings nationally and internationally and seeing how the business world has evolved. I can speak personally about experiences with leaders and mentors, ”he says.
Farmers Edge started in 2005. The company now has more than 500 employees in six countries and went public earlier this year.
Poppel says this rate of growth can make it difficult to find the right employees for the company.
“Once we started going to schools and doing these presentations, we started to generate more interest from students and we realized that we had two opportunities: to invest in people right from the start. start and take that investment in future recruiting and improve our overall customer experience, ”he said. .
To Poppel’s knowledge, no other agricultural technology company has an internship program as broad in scope as Farmers Edge.
Jinjer Lorenz, the company’s vice president of marketing, says many students choose an internship with FE over a summer job with other farm input companies because it allows them to “get their hands on in many different pots ”.
Interns can be on social media to create content and tell stories, Lorenz says, or they can be in the field to validate and define predictive models that have never been used before.
Poppel says interns receive training at all levels of business, sales and marketing, product development and agronomy to work with the precision technology itself. The company views this type of time investment as a direct investment in the business.
And how do customers see it? Mostly, they like it, says Poppel.
“Agricultural technology is still a bit new. Anytime you bring someone through a change curve there are bumps so our producers have been receptive and encouraged us to add interns to their account as it helps them engage more with the plate. -shape, ”he said.
“Interns won’t always have the answer, but they can call someone and ask. They are another resource in front of the customer.
Lorenz adds that interns bring a level of “life and energy” to the company. “The next generation gets a bad rap for being the lazy generation, but we pride ourselves on finding hardworking people.
“Farmers never sleep, and the people they want to serve them are people who believe in this work ethic. ”