Posted October 24, 2017
Cody Guenther from UW-River Falls landed a highly competitive internship this past summer with a local agricultural chemical testing company called WinField United. His job involved dressing in a protective suit, donning an unwieldy backpack sprayer and meticulously spraying test plots of crops and weeds with herbicides, fungicides and pesticides to determine whether the chemicals were effective.
“We would spray them,” Guenther said, “and then seven days later we would rate them for damage.”
Guenther is a senior crop and soils major at UWRF who will be graduating next May. He found his way into WinField United through a contact he’d made – the manager/director of the research and development facility. He was hired in part because of his extensive background in the agricultural industry, having had two other internships with agricultural cooperative businesses and having spent the past 10 or 15 years working on his neighbor’s farm.
“So I grew up with the knowledge of how the ag. industry works,” he said.
The internship, he said, has been invaluable. He honed his ability to be resourceful when confronted with problems, and he gained valuable product knowledge on the different chemicals he was researching. He is still working with WinField part-time this semester and has an internship in their sales department lined up for next summer. He said that he hopes to use his background in research and development to better sell the products to potential customers.
“Now I can take that research that I did and say, when I’m trying to sell product, ‘Well, last summer I did this research on this product, and I saw firsthand that it worked,’” he said.
WinField United is a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes that has been partnering with UWRF for nearly three decades. What started out as a simple land rental agreement has since expanded into an entire internship program, and now the university plans to expand the scope of that internship program.
WinField rents a plot of farmland just south of the UWRF Mann Valley Farm. The land is used for test plots, where Guenther and other workers spray new chemical products onto plants to check the effectiveness of the products before they hit the market.
The partnership between WinField and UWRF has grown in the thirty years that they have worked together. Dale Gallenberg, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, said that the two institutions have been swapping resources. WinField provides seeds to the university for planting, UWRF provides WinField access to CAFES faculty, and UWRF classes occasionally make field trips to the WinField facilities to see how the operations work in person. Even more importantly, UWRF sends over students as interns.
“For WinField, interns are important not only because they provide a summer work force, but that is a major stream of future employment,” Gallenberg said. “Internships are valuable for students, and increasingly if you have a good internship, the chances of long-term employment are increased.”
Katie Henk is another crops and soils senior who will be graduating in December. She also spent last summer interning with WinField. She got a position as a crop protection intern, which involved driving around Wisconsin, talking to growers and representatives from retail locations and ensuring that they know how to use the various chemicals properly. It was a highly competitive internship to get, she said, but it was well worth the time, and she now has another internship offer from the company.
“I hope to be with WinField in the end,” Henk said. “That’s the goal.”
In September, WinField opened a new facility on the north side of town called the WinField United Innovation Center. According to a press release from UWRF University Communications, the new building will replace an older facility called the WinField Product Development Center Spray Analysis System, and it will be used for chemical product research.
With this in mind, Gallenberg said, UWRF has tentative plans to start introducing different majors on campus to the WinField internship programs. In the past, internships have largely gone to students with majors in crop and soil science, agricultural business, agricultural technology or agricultural engineering. WinField has since expressed interest in students from the chemistry department, since the new facilities focus on chemical development work. Gallenberg said that biology, physics and computer science majors are under consideration as well.
The Chemistry Department alone has 81 students in it, according to campus 2016-2017 enrollment reports. Adding in the other three majors amounts to around 600 new students who could potentially benefit from this internship opportunity, though the university has yet to make definite plans.
“We’ve committed to this interaction,” Gallenberg said, “we’ve yet to arrange the specifics.”
If the plans do go through, more students will have the same opportunities as Guenther and Henk to potentially advance their careers in the agricultural industry.