Adam P. Gaspar is a research scientist with Corteva Agriscience working at its Janesville, Wisconsin research center. His work includes developing seed traits, seed treatment, and crop protection products for growers as they work to sustainably increase profitability on their farm. Previously, Gaspar was a field agronomist for Pioneer Hi-Bred. As a graduate student in the Department of Agronomy at UW–Madison working under Dr. Shawn Conley, his research and extension activities covered many aspects of modern, Midwest row crop production. Gaspar’s research was applied in nature and the resulting extension was targeted at the farm level where these research findings could be immediately adopted by producers. Now, with Corteva Agriscience, the goal of his research is to increase crop production in an environmentally and economically sustainable fashion by improving crop management through the adoption of new practices and technologies. During his free time, he enjoys going home and farming with his dad and family on their farm in east-central South Dakota.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?
I have been engaged in agriculture my whole life, developing a passion for the genuine joy that farming brings to myself and family. Furthermore, my dad has worked for Pioneer Hi-Bred, now Corteva, in various roles as an agronomist and scientist. This exposed me to the science and innovation within the industry, witnessing major scientific breakthroughs from biotechnology, precision agriculture, and many more. Thus, heading down the agriculture career path was an easy choice for me.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in agronomy and then came to UW–Madison to purse both a master’s and PhD in agronomy with Dr. Shawn Conley. UW–Madison is consistently ranked in the top three agricultural school in the U.S., specifically for its deep commitment to research and extension services, which aligns with the university’s land grant mission. The resources available at UW–Madison to pursue graduate degrees in agronomy were second to none. One would be the research network established across the state with the Agricultural Research Stations. Second, my advisor had funding for travel to different conferences to interact with various people and learn about different parts of the country.
After graduation in 2016 I started with Pioneer Hi-Bred in Illinois as an agronomist before transitioning to my current role in integrated field sciences at our Janesville, Wisconsin field research station.
What is a typical day in the life in your current role?
The best thing about my current role and agriculture in general is that no two days are the same. The seasonal nature of what I do makes each month, week, and day different. Some days my office is in a building in front of a computer while other days it is in a corn, soybean, or wheat field. Spring starts out with planting thousands of plots testing different genetics, management practices, and products. The summer consists of spending time walking fields, evaluating plant growth and development or the effectiveness of a certain product. Fall brings harvest and final data collection before the winter where I get to analyze all the information we collected that year. During the winter I spend a lot of time with our customers and sales teams educating and training them on new products, findings, and overall ways to make their farming operation a success.
What do you like about this job? What is challenging?
One is the variety of work I am engaged in and ever-changing challenges. No day, week, month, or year is the same, which brings new opportunities and keeps me thinking and on my toes. Working in a biological world of plants and micro-organisms that are affected by Mother Nature means change is the norm.
Agriculture has been and remains a tight-knit community. More than 97% of our customers are family farms where they don’t consider farming a job but rather a lifestyle. Our farm is a family farm that we strive to pass down through the generations. That sentiment is felt throughout the entire ag industry, which is full of passionate people I get the joy of working with each day.
We are on a planet with finite natural resources, a growing population, and an increasing middle class. The challenge to sustainably produce food, fuel, and fiber in the most environmentally friendly way possible to ensure the success of the next generation is a grand challenge that keeps me motivated to continue advancing science.
What skills from graduate school are the most useful to you in this job?
Collaboration. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and UW–Madison as a whole is full of subject matter experts in just about every discipline imaginable. My major professor, Shawn Conley, was well known for driving collaborative projects with colleagues from different departments. I followed his lead during graduate school, working with colleagues from different departments that offered new ideas and different perspectives. This allowed us to conduct some exciting research and for me to grow scientifically and professionally. As an agronomist by training these skills are aligned perfectly with my current role as I work to create integrated solutions for farmers. To do this I work closely with engineers, computer programmers, plant breeders, etc.
What kinds of things did you do as a student that you believe made you competitive as a job candidate?
My eagerness to develop new skills in different areas and adaptability helped. The ag industry is changing at an increasingly rapid rate. New skills, methodologies, and practices are uncovered every day. The ability to adapt and learn new skills or work in an area that you’re maybe not as comfortable in are very desirable traits. There is always opportunity for those who seek to grow and learn.
What advice do you have for current graduate students interested in this type of career?
Before graduation do your best to network with individuals in the workforce and develop relationships. While ag has made great technological and scientific strides, it is still rooted in personal relationships and trust.