Agronomists are an important part of agriculture, but usually don’t get a lot of recognition. Sam Krhovsky is exactly the kind of person that might change all of that. Naturally, I had to chat with her about what she does and why.
What exactly is an agronomist and what kind of training do you need for that type of job?
I LOVE what I do! It’s definitely a term that most people outside the ag world don’t know….some people assume I study the stars….. The job “agronomist” can vary depending on the farm or company you are working for, but agronomy is the science of producing plants for some type of agricultural purpose, whether its for food, textiles, fiber, etc. In my case, I assist our customers with making management decisions or solving any potential issues with their corn and soybeans. The best way I explained it to my niece: I play Corn Doctor and ask A LOT of questions to get the bottom of a problem or prevent a problem. Are the soybeans looking a little yellow? There could be a lot of reasons why….my job is to figure out that reason and give a prescription to fix it and/or explain how to keep it from happening again.
Training for this job again varies by the company that you work for. In my case at Monsanto, agronomists need to either have a Masters Degree in agriculture or a certain number of years with agricultural sales. Other places may only require a Bachelor’s Degree, or some positions may just want previous experience. All the agronomists I work with have a variety of backgrounds; some of us came straight from graduating with our MS while others works as sales managers in the corn/soybean world for a while. The most important thing you need in this type of job is people skills. You need to be able to communicate efficiently, translate technical information into everyday lingo, and be able to articulate yourself in some tough situations. The best part about working with farmers is they are in a business that they love and have passion for, and you see that every time you walk onto a farm.
So, you didn’t grow up on a farm, but you found your way there anyway. What path did you take to get here?
I confused a lot of people for 2 reasons: I’m a short blonde girl named “Sam” and I did not grow up on a farm. Sometimes customers I haven’t met miss the fact that I’m a “her” so the confusion when I show up is pretty funny (“yes sir, it’s short for Samantha”). I grew up in small town Ladoga, Indiana with 2 dogs and a gold fish pond. I had family that were involved in agriculture, but not row crop. I showed sheep in 4-H thanks to my uncle’s support, and I joke with my FFA advisor that he finally bugged me enough about joining the crops judging team in 8th grade that I gave in so he’d leave me alone. Little did I know, it would completely change what my 14 year old self had planned out for my future. I had cousins that were also in FFA that were some of my best friends and encouraged me to do more than just crops judging. My parents (bless their hearts) are supportive in everything I do….I tell people I could tell my parents I want to be a professional scuba diver and their response would be asking what they can do to help.
Five years of crops judging, soils judging, officer positions, state fairs, and 3 blue corduroy jackets later, I was off to Purdue University (Boiler Up!) to study agronomy. A typical college student, my degree changed about 3 times, but I ended up where I started; Purdue’s Agronomy Department. FFA gave me the experience I needed to be successful in college and in other organizations, so when it came time to find a job or attend graduate school, I was fortunate to network enough during my 4 years in West Lafayette to have offers for both choices. After some internship experiences and finding that many companies like to see Masters Degrees for agronomy roles, I packed my bags again and went southwest to Oklahoma State (Go Pokes!) to their Plant and Soil Science department. Good grief, do those Cowboys love their football! I had a fantastic time working on a research and teaching assistantship in agronomy, learning a little two-step, attending a heck of good time known as Calf Fry, and I met some lifelong friends. When the time came to look for jobs, I wanted to head back towards home and after interviewing for a few positions, Monsanto is where I ended up. My bags got packed for the last time and I headed for Michigan (or according to my Okie friends, Canada). I met my wonderful farmer husband and now we farm with my in-laws on a corn/soybean/wheat farm in east central Michigan.
Based on your Sassy Agronomist posts I can tell how passionate you are about agriculture. Where does that passion stem from and what gets you excited about farming?
How can you not get excited? When I started putting Sassy Agronomist together, my thought was to give some updates from the field to those already involved in agriculture. My shout out goes to my BFF Cover Crop Gal who encouraged me to go for it. As I started, I began to realize that when I see a lot of agriculture advocacy (or AGvocacy as we tend to call it), there’s not a whole lot that revolves around corn and soybeans. Why not use the page to teach others not just about what I do on a daily basis, but to show what farmers are dealing with? Rather than just posting “hey everyone, gray leaf spot is starting to show up in corn.” I wanted to say “What is gray leaf spot? Why do we care? What do I do about it? Why should YOU care?”
And of course, there’s always some sassy moments. If I learned anything about social media, it’s that funny sells. Especially when you can relate it to real life. Let’s face it, there’s more women in agricultural roles today than there use to be, whether its agronomy, sales, farming, etc. BUT, we technically work in a man’s world. Sometimes we deal with things only other women can understand, like how people don’t recognize me when I’m dressed in normal clothes, or the fact that the agronomy “Sam” is not a 50 year old man with a beard. It’s a ton of fun contrary to what some people might think, and you definitely have to have a good sense of humor to work in this industry!
You grew up in Indiana and now live and work in Michigan. I’m a licensed attorney in both states and will admit there are some strange legal contrasts between the two! Are there any quirky differences you’ve noticed about the two states (ag related or not)?
- Michigan turns……I can’t turn left at the light but have to drive through the light and then make a U turn in a designated lane….seriously?
- Bottle/can returns….I’m glad the state is all about being “Pure Michigan” but good grief the amount of times I got yelled at for crushing a can or throwing them away on accident the first year I lived here…..
- The accent……I came up here with a southern twang and got a lot of “you’re not from around here, are you?” Now I talk to friends down south and I have to make them slow down because I can’t understand them anymore!
You’re currently employed by Monsanto. Lots of people have a really negative opinion of the company. Is it as bad as people say it is?
Oh boy, the comments I get. When I first started my Twitter account, I got some interesting private messages. Coming out of school, I was so proud to be working for a great company, for the leader in corn and soybean trait technology. You always here about some of thoughts of others regarding the company, but you truly don’t understand until you are fully immersed in it. Here’s the cold, hard truth: I’ve been told I work for an evil place, I’ve received messages that people hope that I get cancer from the GMOs I’m supporting, asked how could I support such an evil place, etc. Airports are definitely interesting, especially when people ask what I do and they don’t expect “someone like ME” to work for such a place….I guess they expected me to have devil horns or something.
I love this company, the people, the places. I love the fact that we develop, research, and test products to create sustainable solutions for growers and the environment; that we partner with universities and other companies to not just provide these solutions but educate on them, that we are committed to developing communities like the honey bee project, STEM education, and conservation practices. I’ll stand up for my company, my customers, and the agriculture industry all day, every day, no matter if they are GMO, non-GMO, organic, or conventional. I could throw out a lot of facts, data points, statistics, etc., but I’ve found that sometimes you have to pick your battles. There are people who truly are concerned and want to better understand and get questions answered while others are just ready to pick a fight and prove you wrong. I’d say the most disappointing part of those conversations is that I’m automatically discredited to have an opinion because I work for Monsanto. Isn’t it interesting that someone at the source doesn’t get a say?
What question do people never ask that you wished they did ask, and what is your answer to that question?
I wish people would ask me just simply “Can I visit your farm or someone elses?” or “Is there a farmer I can talk to?”
Not really an answer to this except YESSSSSSSS. Let’s face it, the internet is full of good stuff…and bad. How can you fully understand what we do every day as farmers if you’ve never been on the farm to experience it? And I don’t mean a group date like “The Bachelor” shoveling dairy cow manure by hand (side note: why the hell weren’t they using the loader that was sitting off to the side?!?!). I mean asking the questions that we all assume. Why do you grow GMO or non-GMO? What happens when you try to decide what seed to grow? What’s it really like when a Monsanto salesman (or woman) comes to your farm? What are YOUR concerns, Mr. Farmer vs. what we seem to think your concerns are?
Like all industries, there’s going to be good people, and there’s going to be people who don’t play by the rules. Unfortunately for all of us, whether it’s farming, the medical field, the restaurant business, heck even our school systems…..we tend to focus and hear only about the “bad” when there is so much good to be seen and heard. What questions are you asking to better understand?
About Sam: Sam grew up in a small town called Ladoga in central Indiana, with only a goldfish pond and two dogs. With the encouragement of her family, she decided to join FFA and her love for agriculture took off like wildfire. She graduated from Purdue University with her bachelor’s degree in agronomy business and marketing. She then attended Oklahoma State and received her Master’s degree in soil and crop science with a focus in weed science. For the last four years, she has worked at Monsanto as a technical agronomist in Michigan. Sam married a 4th generation farmer in July of 2016. He and his family are grain farmers, planting corn,soybean, and wheat. You can follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter.