On the floor of the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta, Clay Starkey interacts with industry leaders.
Back in Arkansas, he's pursuing a master's program in weed science.
In both instances, he's working toward the goal of being gainfully employed someday in agriculture.
Thanks to a Bayer CropSicence program, he's pursuing both at the same time.
The crop protection, seed and research and development company started a program last year to find and develop talent.
Working through land grant universities, Bayer CropScience identifies potential employees while their still in the throes of dissertations.
"We were having a hard time finding people who fit certain skill sets, so we developed a recruiting tool to help us find students that could one day turn into potential Bayer employees," says Richard Rudolph, Bayer CropScience regional development manager.
Bayer CropScience took the project to interested universities and found a receptive ear. The first two students/potential employees came from the University of Arkansas and North Dakota State University. Because of the importance of the program, Bayer's U.S. marketing and research share in funding the program, with additional support from Europe. The participating universities, with input from Bayer CropScience, handle the selection of the students in the program. The company plans to identify a total of five students to shepherd through school with the possibility of a job after graduation.
"The universities benefit by having students totaled funded by industry with a fully-funded research project; the student benefits with ties to a possible job when they graduate and Bayer CropScience benefits because the student works on a research project needed by the company and we get the opportunity to evaluate the student for an extended period," Rudolph says.
"I envisioned this as a program where the students would work on our farms and give us a chance to evaluate their work as well as interpersonal skills—all with looking to place them in a job off the farm down the road," Rudolph says.
As a second year weed science student, Starkey has already had experience in the industry. He interned with a Bayer CropScience technical service representative while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Southern Illinois University.
"The classroom is important," Starkey says. "But there are things you can only learn outside of the classroom. This is an opportunity that few folks in school have."
The central Illinois native, two generations removed from the farm, is fully aware of the opportunity. "The possibility for me to continue and get my Ph.D., stay in school while working toward a potential job is great," Starkey says.
At the University of Arkansas, Starkey is a weed science graduate student of Nilda Burgos and Jason Norsworthy. He's developing a master's thesis on "A Geospatial Snapshot view of barnyardgrass and HPPD for pigweed control." His work centers on the rotation of crops, chemistries and technologies.
His work involves developing timing schedules for the treatment of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Already, he sees the need to be flexible. "We're always going to be adapting to work with Mother Nature, using new traits and technologies," Starkey says. "Agriculture is always an evolving field."
"With this program, we're investing in our growth for longevity and sustainability," Rudolph says.