It’s quiet right now at Monsanto’s Monmouth, Ill., Learning Center, as least from a visitor perspective. During the late spring and summer months, a steady stream of farmers, seed dealers, investors, academics, international groups and youth organizations tour the facility to learn about the latest seed technologies being researched and tested in the field.
“And farmers come for another reason,” says Tom Eickhoff, Learning Center manager. “They come with issues and problems they’re dealing with right now on their farms, and how we might be able to help.”
He grew up on a small farm in northeastern Nebraska, near the town of Fordyce. His two brothers still operate the farm. His upbringing and experience help him understand immediately where farmers are coming from when they ask questions and talk about farming problems during the tours at Monmouth.
Eickhoff is a Cornhusker – he received his B.A. in agronomy and his masters and PhD in entomology from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. (I didn’t ask him about which team he supported in the Big 12 Football Championship recently, when Texas eked out a 13-12 win over Nebraska to win a shot at the national title). He started with Monsanto at Monmouth in 2007 as a Technology Development Representative (TDR) associate, and then a few months later became the TDR for east central Indiana. After a year, he moved back to Monmouth to lead the Learning Center team.
The Learning Center is one part of what goes on at Monmouth. The operations also include a corn breeding program, a trait development program, and an agronomy center. The facility has about 50 full-time people.
“In the summer,” he says, “a typical day for the Learning Center focuses on visitors. We tell them the story of Monsanto’s technology and our research pipeline, but it’s a story in the context of agriculture and what farmers need and are looking for. We talk a lot about improving farm productivity and our commitment to sustainable yield.
“But we also talk about problems farmers and dealers are contending with right now,” Eickhoff says. “This year, for example, the big story has been white mold on soybeans, a problem across the industry. It seems to happen in cycles, every few years or so. We talk about how to manage it now, and we’re also planning several plots for next season to show various ways to deal with and mitigate the problem.”
In the post-harvest (late this year) and winter season, the center’s six to eight full-time people (another 15 or so temporary workers help in the summer) focus on gathering data and providing feedback to visitors. “Farmers want to know how the various demonstration plots did,” he says. “So we collect the data and other information from the operations here and send summaries to the farmers. At the same time, we survey and talk with farmers, to learn what their experiences were for the overall season and how that applies to our products and business.”
Farmers come to Monmouth to learn, and they end up teaching in the process.