Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Julia Ronghua Zhu photo

Julia Ronghua Zhu, leads the Mycotoxin Management and Poultry teams at Alltech

Ahead of the WFA Summit 2019, AgriBriefing spoke to Julia Ronghua Zhu, who leads the Mycotoxin Management and Poultry teams at Alltech.

Julia has always had a passion for animal nutrition and graduated from China Agriculture University in 2008, before joining Dachan Group. She worked at the firm’s Tianjin feed business for six years, mainly focussing on poultry nutrition.

What is your background in agriculture?

When I was in Danchan Group, although I worked in the R&D department, my role saw me undertake a lot of other duties, such as experimental technician, formulator, marketing assistant and salesperson. It has been an interesting and rewarding journey. At Alltech I often visit customers with the sales team to audit the feed mills, helping our customers to improve the production and prevent mycotoxin contamination.

What are the key drivers in agriculture and food? What are the main challenges the sector is facing now?

I think the key driver is the consumptive power of consumers and the challenge as an industry is to react to that. The main challenges in China is African Swine Fever.

What role do women play in agriculture today and how you can see it changing in the future?

I think men and women are equal in this field, and maybe women will be more and more important.

Where do you think there are opportunities for women in the sector?

There are many opportunities for women in the agri food, especially in research and in sales. In terms of natural skills, women are patient, persistent and good at communicating and understanding others.

How can we encourage more women to join the sector?

 We need to overcome the pay gap. In general, women are not as well paid as men and that can be off-putting to women, especially those starting out their careers.

However, we are seeing more and more outstanding women in this field.

What can agribusinesses do better?

I think for a highly integrated enterprise, it needs more and more professionals to participate in the field of excellence.

Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Women in Food and Agriculture: Nikki Putman-Badding

Nikki Putnam-Badding photo

Nikki Putnam-Badding | Director of Acutia, Alltech

Nikki Putman-Badding was a fresh faced dietician, finishing grad school when she persuaded one of the biggest companies in agriculture to create a new role, just for her.

Three days at an Alltech conference left her “wide eyed” and convinced she had to work for the company. After hustling and networking, she was put in touch with her current mentor, Alltech’s global director of applications research, Becky Timmons.

“I was asked to write the job description for my role – the open-mindedness of Alltech to a young female, straight out of grad school, was amazing,” she says. 

After working in technical and sales support improving nutrition along the food supply chain, beginning with crops and animals Ms Putman moved up to lead the human health division a year ago.

Gender bias and making room at the table

Women face challenges and stereotyping, says Ms Putman, remembering a conference where the technicians prepared her to introduce her male colleague, assuming (wrongly) that he was the speaker.

But “diversity can broaden and deepen an industry,” says Ms Putman, and “it’s important to challenge bias and what a leader looks like. Don’t accept stereotyping or bias. Don’t be a bystander – lead by example – be part of the solution to make inclusivity, diversity and equality a priority in your organisation,” she says.

“Ask for clarification or an explanation of a comment, or if you feel your idea or opportunity for involvement were overlooked. Communicate the impact of the bias; by dealing with it directly you can ensure not only that your concern is heard, but allow space for effective and respectful communication.”

Dealing with gender bias involves greater awareness that it exists, and actively making room at the table for those who may be subject to it, says Ms Putman. All leaders need to do this.

“Male colleagues and leaders should counteract gender bias by acknowledging that stereotypes and both explicit and implicit biases exist – challenge yourself and your colleagues to monitor your internal and external dialogue and actions and choose to be part of the solution by recognising and correcting stereotyping and bias when it occurs.”

How women can pull each other up

Support from her mentor and other women, has been instrumental to her career, says Ms Putman. “I have been learning from females throughout my career. Many have mentored me throughout, without even knowing, because they acted as role models.

“A good leader fosters a diverse, inclusive workplace, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. In my experience, good female leaders tend be flexible, agile and confident in any situation. They have grace under pressure and take a team approach.

“My mentor, for example, has shown me the value of collaboration and creating relationships. She presents stability and agility and commands respect. She is fair across all genders – she sees a talented person and helps them. I’m forever grateful to her for giving me a seat at the table.”

Tips on career advancement

  • Seek out a mentor: Irrespective of gender or background, find someone who inspires you and ask for performance feedback, introductions to key decision-makers and advice on professional development. Reach out within your company, on social media or LinkedIn. Attend local or industry networking events and ask for recommendations. Some professional and trade organisations offer mentor matching.
  • Learn how your organisation works: Get to know the decision-makers and create relationships with other departments – look and ask for opportunities to collaborate
  • Be confident in what you know, but humble enough to know you haven’t got all the answers
  • Help colleagues succeed: The more you can share your own knowledge and skills to help others problem-solve, the more you’ll be asked to be involved.
  • Continuously learn from others: Ask to be part of meetings that will help you learn more about roles or projects adjacent to yours or that you aspire to be in or a part of.
  • Be prepared to explain why you are right for a role or project.
Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Women in Food and Agriculture: Jennifer Del Rio

Jennifer Del Rio photo

Jennifer Del Rio | Sales Manager, Alltech China

Around the world, women are integral to ensuring food security. As the industry becomes more advanced and entrepreneurial, the sector will be dominated by women who are more diverse, creative, and resilient.

Jennifer Del Rio grew up on a southern Philippine island dubbed ‘the land of promise’, where food is grown, harvested and consumed more cheaply than in other areas in the country. Her parents had a small farm producing broilers, layers and pigs, which provided food for the family and income for her education.

But she says it wasn’t until she’d done a philosophy degree and worked for a non-governmental project on improving crops and market access, that she fully grasped the challenges facing backyard farmers.

The experience was “like a treasure box being unlocked”, as she discovered her love for agriculture and the opportunities in the sector.

Now she works as Alltech’s sales manager in the Philippines, where she has been for six years. Her job involves spending a lot of time on-farm doing business with customers, from feed-millers, to commercial farmers, and dealers.

“I am a believer of we are what we ate, so with the innovations now in agriculture, we cannot just level-up our productivity, but must prosper by keeping our produce safe to eat and protect Mother Earth,” says Ms Del Rio.

 What are the main challenges facing agriculture?

Climate change and global warming are huge challenges, says Ms Del Rio, and education on this could “make or break” people coming together to tackle it.

Telling the story of Alltech’s ‘Planet of Plenty’ initiative, is one way to educate people, she says. The Planet of Plenty vision calls for a new era of collaboration across industry sectors and geographical boundaries, to create a place where animals, plants, and people thrive in harmony.

“It is also wise to see how we can improve performance at the farm level, to provide nutritious foods for consumers using the latest innovations,” she adds.

What role do women play in agriculture? How might this change?

“Globally, there is an empirical evidence that women have a decisive role in ensuring food security,” says Ms Del Rio.

“We all know that agriculture is an important engine of growth that can reduce poverty. Women’s roles in managing complex household and multiple livelihood strategies to sustain their families, are clearly shown.”

But women’s roles will change as society does and technology becomes more advanced, predicts Ms Del Rio.

“Online business that indirectly involves agricultural enterprises is slowly rising, and women are the one’s good at it,” she says. “Entrepreneurship in promoting advanced agricultural will soon be dominated by women who are more diverse, creative, and resilient.”

Where are the opportunities for women in the sector?

There are opportunities at all levels of food and agriculture, says Ms Del Rio. “Currently in the Philippines, we have Filipina farmers, Filipina chefs, Filipina managers in FMCG and a lovely Filipina preparing food for every filipino family table.

“I believe that when we have a strong network of women in these sectors, we have a strong family, which is a basic unit in society, and a basic force in the agricultural and food industry.”

How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in our industry?

“I can’t think of a better way to inspire women than to tell my story,” says Ms Del Rio. “I believe my story is a testament to how agriculture and food provide us opportunities to be in school, to complete degrees, to start livelihoods, and learn from companies about maximising produce and marketing.”

What should agribusinesses be doing better?

“Getting everyone involved, including the young – that is the best way to further agriculture. That way food and the future are interconnected, so that these important sectors continue feeding the new breed of heroes, farmers and food producers.”

Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Women in Food and Agriculture: Maria Agovino

Maria Agovino photo

Maria Agovino | European Technical Sales Manager for Ruminants, Alltech

“Women’s roles are changing as part of the constantly evolving social, environmental, cultural and economic contexts they live in.”

Maria Agovino is Alltech’s European Technical Sales Manager for Ruminants based in Switzerland. She focuses on business, product development and technical support, plus strategic planning. Ahead of the WFA Summit, we asked her to share her thoughts on some of the big issues facing women in the agrifood sector.

What is your background and how did you get started in the industry?

Maria: I graduated in 2003 in Animal Science, specialising in Ruminant Nutrition at the Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences at Napoli University ‘Federico II’, Italy. I then did a postgraduate course, ‘Agrifood Innovative System Manager’. This means I am a Cow Signals® trainer. I can train colleagues as well as farmers to know the basic needs of the cow, learn to recognise early disease signals and understand the concepts of health, management, housing, feed and economics. I joined Alltech in 2005 and since then I have been covering different roles as Distributor Manager, Key Account Manager for Italy. Subsequently I moved to Switzerland to take on a new challenge as the ruminant specialist for Europe.

What are the key drivers in agriculture and food? What are the main challenges the sector is facing now?

Maria: I would like to think that the key drivers are the consumers. They are broadly interested in supporting sustainable and ethical food production. The consumption is increasingly being driven by the heart: consumers are making choices defined by their positive impact on the world.

There are several long-term challenges that face agriculture. The population is growing, especially in developing countries, and global food demand is increasing as a result. Water quality and availability threaten current agricultural standards. The greatest challenge to me, is improving the consumer’s perception of modern agriculture often perceived as negatively impacting the environment.

What role do women play in agriculture today and how you can see it changing in the future?

Maria: The contribution of women to agricultural and food production is significant. Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries.  Women’s participation in rural labour markets varies considerably across regions, but invariably women are over represented in unpaid, seasonal and part-time work, and the available evidence suggests that women are often paid less than men, for the same work and sometimes their activities are not always acknowledged. For example, farm activities of women smallholder farmers are often considered to be part of their domestic chores. Therefore, their contributions remain informal and do not get due recognition. Today, their roles are changing as part of the constantly evolving social, environmental, cultural and economic contexts they live in. Worldwide, women are impressively demonstrating that they are willing and able to use their qualifications and growing self-determination in order to directly increase social prosperity and to preserve natural resources. Historical perception of a male driven business. Agriculture needs a change and having women as decision makers and or covering roles of responsibility can represent that change

Our research highlights that investing in women is becoming more important for businesses in the food and agricultural sector and the importance of promoting the sector to younger generation. Where do you think there are opportunities for women in the sector?

Maria: I think there are opportunities everywhere. Women have the skills that modern farming needs; we are natural multi-taskers, good communicators and used to hard work. Sensibility, determination, resourcefulness, creativity of women are essential ingredients in agriculture. More women need to be involved steering the direction of the industry.

How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in our industry?

Maria: There are hundreds of women who inspire us in agriculture and food, though there are still not enough! They are entrepreneurs, stewards of the land, business owners, researchers, farmers, and innovators who are the backbone of the world’s food systems.

What should agribusinesses be doing better?

Maria: There is a lot to do. We need to improve the status of women in agriculture and rural areas; increase awareness that policies have different impacts on women and men; guarantee gender equality both on paper and in practice; promote female participation in decision-making processes and recognise women’s work burden.

Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Women in Food & Ag: Bianca Martins

Bianca Martins photo

Bianca Martins | Head of Alltech Mexico

There is a lot to be said for leveraging on our strengths, and this is a mindset Bianca Martins has firmly adopted on her road to success.

In just 12 years, Bianca has upped through the ranks at Alltech since landing a job on the sales floor in 2007, to being appointed as country manager for Mexico earlier this year.

“There are no limits for women in the field,” says Bianca.

“But we can see more success when women respect their own natural aptitudes.”

Bianca graduated as an animal scientist, with a MBA in Agribusiness and master degree in animal production and nutrition in 1998, and, eager to get a foothold in the ladder, then began working in a large-scale monogastrics production company in Brazil, before joining Alltech.

Relishing in the opportunities presented to gather experience during this time, Bianca spent time in the premix department as well as with the research team in the laboratory of animal nutrition, biochemistry and poultry patology.

Around that time, Bianca recalls a somewhat male dominated sector.

She recalls having just a few female colleagues in the field, but never any in the same company.

“Curiously, I never had a female reference in my work line, not even in research or finance, all men, says Bianca.

“I remember in my beginnings in the agribusiness, I took the liberty to count in my mind how many women I could find in the national congress we had back in the year of 1997.

“There were 250 people in the room, but it was an easy task; we were just seven women and were made up of four internal nutritionists and three in the field with farmers, including me.”

Working in a sector she says is now challenged daily to reinvent itself and stay profitable, Bianca credits those who have walked the path before her.

“Women started to change the field more than 20 years ago, when they decided to have a presence in agribusiness.

“The first ag women had to fight to have a voice in the industry.

“I saw some of the representatives of this generation facilitate extraordinary changes in the way we produce food.

“I had the feeling they were giants when I was young, with a strong voice who commanded a lot of respect where ever they decided to be.

“They opened all the doors to the next generation, one in which I am now included as a woman.”

Fast-forward to the present and the industry today is one which Bianca believes has accepted woman as having an important, but different role to that of men.

“It doesn´t mean better or worse,” she continues.

“It means the industry has accepted any gender with the same objective, working together to achieve a common goal.

“But we live in times of unprecedented change.

“The way we live, familiar relationships, politics, education, food and beliefs have been changing so deeply in the last decades, giving us so many new factors to deal with daily.”

Communication and technology, Bianca says, are central to some of this and manifest as some of the challenges facing us in the future.

“Agribusiness should find a way to share more information with consumers, the current generation of whom want to eat healthily, with less impact to the environment.

“Managing and adapting technological advances in the field also needs careful organisation, in terms of incorporating these to improve production and traceability which is demanded by our supply chains.

“It will be revolutionary, for example, if the industry can find ways to predict a disease and prevent it before collapsing a system, as we have seen with the ASF situation in China recently.

“Are robots, block chain, face recognition the new tools of the future?”

With such change afoot, Bianca feels woman can focus on the attributes that set them apart from their male counterparts in pursuit of success.

“Women are amazing leaders, with a high level of team spirit and exceptional guides in a culture of change.”

“In some anthropology research of female nature, we can find protection and prevention as main behaviors of female groups.

“When a group of animals are in danger in wild, the females are the first to alarm and protect the group, sometimes at a detriment to their individual goals.

“Transporting this idea to human relationships, in any kind of project where women can express their carefulness and respect of individuality, they will succeed.”

In an industry which Bianca feels is rich in opportunity, there is space for individuals of any gender who have the willingness and drive to want to join it and be successful.

“I always repeat to the new ones “If you can dream it, you can do it, just make an extra effort to make it quickly.”

Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Alltech’s Lori Stevermer: Women Make Agriculture Better

Lori Stevermer photo

Lori Stevermer | Marketing Manager for Hubbard Feeds, part of the Alltech Feed Division

Growing up on her family farm in Minnesota, Lori Stevermer was destined to make a difference both on and off the farm. From her childhood involvement in the local 4H to working at a feed company after college and meeting her husband (a fellow hog farmer)—agriculture is in her blood.“I often get asked, ‘how long have you been doing it?’ I just kind of say, ‘forever.’ It’s just my life, it’s what I do so it seems very natural.”

Now, Lori is the marketing manager for Hubbard Feeds, part of Alltech’s feed division. She has worked in the feed industry for over 30 years, and attributes her career path largely to her upbringing. However, with only 2% of the population actively involved in agriculture, Lori says the pool of talent coming into the industry can and should come from all types of backgrounds. A point she makes when presenting at schools and speaking to young kids about careers in ag—highlighting technology, engineering, science, and some other aspects of agriculture that aren’t always known to those unfamiliar with the business.

“When you look at the expanded agribusiness, we need those bright minds and people that are willing to ask questions and work—and they can come from anywhere. So, I think just letting people know that you don’t have to be from a farm to be in agriculture, that’s a big message that we need to get out there.”

And a big part of that talent pool needs to include women. “I think there’s opportunity everywhere within agriculture.” Both on the farm and off the farm—there are no limitations.

“We [women] do bring a different perspective. We view situations differently; we tend to be more collaborative in the way we approach things. We need our type of skill sets and our type of problem-solving abilities in agriculture. It just makes agriculture better.”

“I think back to when I first started in the feed business and there weren’t too many of us female sales representatives so certainly as more of us get involved with the industry, I think that’s more encouraging.”

Lori is a former president of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association and is a current board member of the National Pork Producers Council, which she says was a natural progression in her career and has helped her in her commitment to serving the industry that she grew up in. It’s also a place to meet knowledgeable individuals that share the same passion.

“That really encourages me and inspires me to do better and to be involved. That would be my word of advice or encouragement to others, to get involved, because I think the saying is the world is run by those who show up. So, if you feel strongly about something, show up and get involved.”

And not only is her presence on the board enhancing the industry, but it’s also paving the way for younger women.

“What was interesting was when I got on the NPPC board, I had a couple of younger ladies come up to me and tell me they were so glad to see another woman on the board. I hadn’t really thought about that—it wasn’t why I ran. I ran because I love the industry and I love to get involved but having them make those comments to me was very humbling.”

As they say, empowered women empower women.

“You walk down that path and make that path a little bit bigger for the next person. Everybody just follows along and it becomes maybe a little less rocky. Although it’s never going to be perfect, but it’s just a more comfortable path. There’s more of  you walking and you feel more comfortable there.”

Quite simply, women play an important role in agriculture. “The encouraging thing is that we continue to see more women involved in agriculture.”

More than 50% of all U.S agriculture students are women.  And as their careers progress, they’ll be involved in more management positions and leading those companies. That will change agriculture because it will make it more inclusive.”

Lori’s story and more from real women working in food and agriculture can be found at: www.wfasummit.com. In 2019, we’re celebrating the women who work to feed the world—shining a light on female leaders in the industry. Get involved—and join us at the Women in Food and Agriculture summit in Amsterdam, December 3-4, 2019.