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FoodGrads Podcast Episode 46: Empowering farmers in a changing world with Melissa Norem, Enterprise Director of Origination at Scoular

On episode 46 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Melissa Norem, Enterprise Director of Origination at Scoular. The Scoular company is an employee-owned $6B agribusiness leading the way since 1892. They buy, sell, store, handle and process grain and ingredients by leveraging their global networks and expertise in international trade and transportation.

In this episode Melissa talked to us about her career journey as 20-year veteran in the agricultural industry with roles which have include trading, supply-chain management and business development.  We learned more about about Scoular and how they are supporting farmers and communities with their focused approach on relationships and innovative supply chain solutions.

Melissa allowed Veronica to pick her brain on some on what skills are important in her role particularly communication. They also divided into the topic about getting into the agricultural industry even if you have no background in the field. Finally, Melissa also taught me about grain production and what it looks like getting from seed to plate. 

Show Notes

 [00:01:33] Could you tell us a little bit more about your current role at Scoular?

  • Melissa is Scoular’s entreprise director which is responsible for leading the thought process around their companies’ strategy and how they are going to serve their producers across the business divisions.
  • This role can be divided into three areas with the first area being strengthening their producer relationships. Melissa brings innovative ideas and solutions to their producers through originator and traders. Originators are producers who buy grain while traders are the end users who are ultimately going to use the grain.  
  • The second role is leveraging technology and thinking about equipping the producer to create and execute on opportunities that are a lot of times going to be in efficiency and analytics. This will enable producers to make informed timely decisions that support the success of their operations.
  • The third role is driving Scoular’s presence in the supply chain. This includes helping throughout the supply chain and providing market knowledge, logistics and helping with issues of sustainability, traceability, soil health. So that’s, that’s what my role is. Today.

[00:04:01] Can you tell more about Scoular and what they do?

  • Scoular is an integral part of the supply chain that deliver’s solutions and market enterprise. They were founded in 1892 with a company headquarters in Omaha with also a corporate representation in Kansas city and Minneapolis with employees across North America and Asia.

 [00:07:03] Can you walk us through your career journey and how it led you to where you are today?

  • Melissa grew up on a soybean and hog farm in North Central Iowa through farming in the late 80s and 90s was tough. Although she loved it she decided that she didn’t want to go into agriculture but instead went to college for economics. After 3 to 4 years agriculture found her with Melissa’s first role out of college being with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) trading wheat.  She learned a ton about logistics working with facilities working with ingredient buyers, transportation, trucking companies, railroads.
  • Melissa believes that what she learned on the job was something that you could never learn in a book. Afterwards she moved to being with Scoular as a Commodities trader and she really enjoyed Scoular’s decentralized model and focus on empowering employees. In that role she was trading commodities particularly in South Central Nebraska. The commodities were particularly corn soybeans, milo and hard red winter wheat.
  • In August 2021 Melissa took her current role which has allowed her to bring together her passions for agriculture and strengthening the farmer while advancing Scholar as a leader in the Ag.

[00:11:37] Melissa and Veronica talking about her career progression

  • Initially Melissa didn’t jump on her current role because she questioned if she had the skills and knowledge. However, the more that she thought about it she realized that she did and went for it.
  • Melissa isn’t sure if anyone really ever feels ready for a role but throughout her career she jumped in and tried to learn. Her advice to those listening is that don’t think of your career path as something that is linear because in Melissa’s case it can almost look like she went backwards than sideways.

 [00:14:40] Did communicating with such an array of people come naturally or was it something that you developed?

  • Melissa believes that regular communication is key to avoiding issues or crises. She is an avid believer that when she talks that she wants to it be of value and efficient. For example an email is not a conversation piece but rather a way to get information translated quickly. In terms of developing the skill it was something that just developed over time.
  • She does have to change her form of communication style to some extent depending upon who she is talking to. Melissa tries to be clear and concise and not leave any gaps to fill in or leave for something to be questioned. Additionally, she tries to be consistent on how she communicate so the person knows what to expect no matter what day they talk with her.

 [00:17:17] In a news article it was mentioned that Scoular is using technology to enhance relationship. Can you talk more to that?

  • Technology is here to stay especially in the Ag industry and Scoular has worked to develop relationship with farmers. Scoular is embracing the use of technology on farms such as empowering producers on information about markets. Scoular for example has Scoular view which gives farmers a suite of tools through both a customer facing website and customer web portal. The labour force is tight right now and they are trying to do more with less folks but they are trying to embrace technology to help with that.

 [00:20:35] How can the younger generation get into agriculture even if they don’t have a background in Ag?

  • “Firstly, don’t let the fact that you don’t have a background in Ag or knowledge let you deter you from pursuing an interest. Just having the passion that I have for agriculture and maybe seeing some of the opportunities within it”
  • Melissa points out that just like any other business Ag need individuals from all different kinds of roles. They need accountants, financial analysts, marketing, communication, human resources, information technology and legal. They industry needs all that and by doing those role you can still be exposed to Ag. Even after 16 years she still has people come up to her asking questions which shows two things. First that nobody is an expert and that you don’t have to be. As well, that at Scoular people are vested in the business and want to learn more.
  • The Ag Industry is exciting and dynamic leading you to think about going into the grocery store differently. Agriculture is affected by so many things but it makes no two days the same. We need agriculture but not just for food but even for clothing and fuel.
  • If you are considering a career in Ag than check out Future Farmers of America where you can find them online and they have organizations all over the United States. Alternatively, even in the suburbs you can reach out to county extension offices. Of course, there is also podcasts that you can go to learn more about agricultural careers.
  • Now is a really exciting time to be in agriculture especially in respect to sustainability and carbon regeneration. Agriculture is going to be at the forefront of helping with sustainability practices.

 [00:26:38] How does Scoular support farmers and communities?

  • The farmer is at the heart of what Scoular does and they put that into practice. They have an official Scoular Foundation which is a private  philanthropic organization that is dedicated to enhancing the quality of human life in communities and continue to advance the agricultural way of life and having robust communicatees that help to support it. They help communities such as EMTs and firefighter organization and donate to those chamber of commerce. They also wok hard to have communication between the market and the producer.

 [00:29:24] Can you tell me more about grain production?

  • This is coming from the North American perspective where seeds are generally planted in the spring depending on when you are, that’s that February through June timeframe the growing season is going to be roughly May through August and then harvest is in the fall and that’s, August through November. That is the basic timeframe for corn soybeans, milo and wheat.
  • In regards to getting the seed to your plate think about the Grain industry is challenged with finding the most efficient way to get the seed to the plate or to an animal’s mouth or to a fuel tank. If you’re talking about fuel There would be, harvesters combines that would combine that production. Everything from crackers, bread and tortilla chips all have grains. Once produced it may travel domestically or exported to other countries. All that is left is going to the supermarket shelves.

[00:33:27] Why is corn considered to be a commodity?

  • It is because the crop is pretty uniform. There are different grain standards for corn, milo and beans. There are some exceptions to that rule and certain products need a certain amount qualities. Commodity refers to something being homogeneous product. A commodity happens with just one farmer and then this leads to a combination of several farmers.
  • Scoular’s partnership and contribution comes from the transportation piece and that is in trucking and rail.To some extent moving by ships as well.

 [00:35:47] What skills are you currently developing?

  • Working on communication as it is something that is on going. As Melissa is seeing new ways that Scoular can work with others in a new capacity. Working on different modes of communication such as PowerPoint and staying consistent in communications. Additionally, focusing on how to organize things differently as there is always many things to manage.  
  • This role involves a lot of forward thinking and think about strategy such as people management, resource design and seeking out new opportunities. There is a lot of learning but Melissa is doing it as she goes. Even just reading a lot of different books as she prefer reading versus watching TV before it was a lot of fiction books but she is alternating between those and business development books to think about things differently.

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