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Successful agricultural careers don't necessarily start on the farm. At least that's been the case for Mark Herrmann. The son of a retired farmer, Herrmann grew up in agriculturally rich Dekalb County in northern Illinois, but not on the farm. Yet, he knew that someday he would pursue a career with ties to farming.

"I have extended family involved in agriculture and rural communities. Growing up in that atmosphere allowed me to appreciate the people and the work involved, leading to my decision to make it my career," says Herrmann, who today is U.S. seed business manager for Asgrow and DEKALB seed brands with Monsanto, St. Louis. "I enjoy the ag industry. When you enjoy what you do, you tend to view it as more than just your job."

Herrmann attended Kishwaukee Community College in northern Illinois, and then transferred to Western Illinois University in Macomb, where he majored in agricultural business with a minor in agronomy. After graduation in 1984, he started his career with DeKalb-Pfizer Genetics Seed Company as a sales representative in Wisconsin and then in northeastern Indiana.

Herrmann was soon promoted to regional manager for the Dakotas, and then returned to Illinois to serve as regional manager. His area and responsibilities eventually grew to include sales responsibility for the central Corn Belt.

Expanding his experience from sales, Herrmann became part of the company's software implementation team to have the chance to learn the cross-functional operations of the seed business. He returned to the commercial side in the marketing division as marketing and regulatory lead for Bt corn and 12 months later became corn product manager.

Following the purchase of the DEKALB seed business by Monsanto, Herrmann was named Asgrow and DEKALB U.S. seed business manager to oversee all Monsanto seed, from corn and soybeans to sorghum, alfalfa, sunflower and canola.

"Throughout my career, I have felt a certain kind of pride from being involved with the food and fiber industry," he says. "From research and development to crop production to food processing, there are great opportunities to get involved with agricultural business."

In fact, the "Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in the Food and Agricultural Sciences - Agriculture, Natural Resources and Veterinary Sciences for 2000-2005" report issued by USDA and Purdue University in 1999, notes that marketing, merchandising and sales positions will continue to be a major employment market for new food and agricultural sciences graduates.

"Fewer graduates will be hired to sell directly to farmers and ranchers, and more will be involved in selling food, forest and horticultural products to domestic and international customers," states the report. "Twenty-eight percent of ag job openings through 2005 are expected to be marketing, merchandising and sales reps."

Herrmann predicts that new opportunities for ag business graduates will crop up as the industry continues to face rapid technical, product and business change. He says technology will be a larger focus in the future, as well as one of the key catalysts for change.

"The key is to be forward-looking and be open to change and to the even greater level of evolution that will occur down the road. We are just starting to see what opportunities might develop for ag business," says Herrmann. "When I entered agriculture, the field was more traditional and had been for 40 years. Now, the field is more exciting and offers new opportunities. There is no question that when you look at agricultural business, there are many accomplishments to come."

The USDA/Purdue report also forecasts that changing business structures of the food production and delivery system will have a serious impact on the agricultural job market. The report states, "Business consolidations and alliances will continue to redefine the kinds and numbers of needed graduates. More complex business structures will increase opportunities for technical and business consultants and information technology specialists. Graduates who add value to raw materials produced on U.S. farms and ranches and market those products to domestic and international customers will see expanding employment." AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a free-lance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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