Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a Leadership Enhancement Skill Seminar hosted by the Illinois Agri-Women and sponsored by Syngenta. The event included lots of networking with other women in the agricultural industry and a seminar about how to advocate for agriculture to consumers.
I also had the privilege of interviewing Kelsey Vance, a retail sales representative for Syngenta, who was representing the company at the event. She told me about her journey into the ag industry and gave some advice for young women looking to go into agriculture. This was our conversation:
Me: Tell me about yourself, your background and your career path.
Kelsey: I grew up in Tremont, Illinois, in Tazewell County on a corn, soybean and vegetable farm. From there I went to Illinois State University where I double-majored in agribusiness and agronomy management. I was very active in NAMA… Upon graduation from ISU I took a job with Syngenta as a sales representative and I moved to Nebraska. Seven months later, I accepted a new position in Southern Illinois; I couldn’t stay out of Illinois for too long. So I came back, and I have been there for three years, and it’s been great!
What do you do as a sales rep?
I am a retail sales representative, so I sell to the retailers and then they sell to the farmers. I sell crop protection, seed and seed care. I don’t go to an office. I don’t have an office. I basically work out of my truck and travel all around six counties. There’s not one day that I’ve ever had the same. Every day of my job is different, which I love. It gives me the opportunity to be out in the field, to be with growers, and to learn more about the industry. It’s always changing and [I get] to be on the front ‘up and new’ with the new technology, which I enjoy.
Why did you want to go into the ag industry?
I think [agriculture] is the only thing I have always known and loved my entire life. Growing up on the farm, I do not have any brothers, I have one younger sister, so my dad quickly realized that he was not going to have any sons, and he was going to have to teach us how to do everything. I started mowing the lawn at five; that was my first John Deere tractor. From there I just fell in love with it. Every opportunity I have to get home and be in the combine or be in the tractor, I definitely take advantage of that. I still keep all the books for the farm. I may be two and a half hours away, but I still know what’s going on a majority of the time. That is definitely where [wanting to go into ag] came from, the farm.
Tell me about being a woman in the ag industry. What is that like?
I think it’s a great time to be a woman in the ag industry. It’s exciting. There are more of us every day, which is very motivating. I think it’s going to continue to grow. There’s going to be more women in the industry, and I think we have a lot to bring to the industry. I’m very excited about it and seeing young people in the industry motivates me more.
What challenges do you find in being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
I do think that sometimes as women, we are wired a little bit differently. I do work with all men. I have one female on my team that I’m so blessed to be able to work with. Sometimes I think I take things a little more to heart than men would and that can be challenging. I think that they also respect that, and they understand that I have a bigger heart, and they appreciate that as well. It might be a challenge at times, but it’s also an opportunity.
Do you have any advice for people like me? (College or high school students)
Yes! I would definitely say to get involved and don’t spread yourself out across numerous organizations, but pick a few that you really have a strong interest in and engage yourself in those and see what you can do with your full potential. Networking is so amazing, you can meet so many people, and it’s actually a lot of fun too. That would be my advice.
How did you get selected to represent Syngenta at this event?
Well, as far as I know, I am one of two sales reps that are female in the entire state. There are not many of us, to be completely honest. I think it was basically through my involvement with Illinois Agri-Women, so like I said earlier, being connected and networking and getting into these organizations. I was able to meet Penny [Lauritezen] and Diana [Ropp], (women that helped organize the event)… They had been to the Syngenta Leadership Training before in North Carolina. When they met me and had a Syngenta rep to work with, then they wanted to bring this to central Illinois. It all comes back to networking.
Ultimately, I met a lot of wonderful women at the leadership seminar yesterday. Kelsey is just one example of the many wonderful women that high school and college women wanting to work in agriculture can look up to.