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The MFA Ag Experience

MFA’s Ag Experience program gives students a chance to learn about agriculture as professional employees. The unique experience lets them mix classroom learning with the actual business of agriculture.

“We embarked to design an internship program that would bring students into the organization so we could observe and evaluate their skills over a 12- to 13-week period during the summer,” said Bob Irish, MFA human resources manager. “What we’re looking for are the shining stars, the best of the best. Those are the future employees,” he said.

MFA launched the program in 2013, hiring 11 interns from about 25 applicants. The next year, more than 100 students applied. Irish said the number of applicants has increased every year. “A number of students stay on as part-time employees while they’re going to school, then do another stint as an Ag Experience intern,” Irish said. That opportunity provides year-round experience for students rather than just a summer internship.

Aimed at college sophomores and juniors, Ag Experience interns must study agriculture and have a farming background. “That’s the second thing I look at on the application after their name,” Irish said.

MFA customizes each internship, catering as much as possible to a student’s interest. In the interview, students share what area interests them and where they live. MFA tries to match students’ interest with a need in the company while keeping them close to home. Irish said the first day is orientation and paperwork. They meet their supervisors and attend a couple meetings. The next day they go to work.

“We treat them like an employee. They’re in front of customers. They go to producer meetings. They go to budget meetings. They get to see the full gamut of what production ag is all about,” Irish said.

Students give a final presentation at the end of their internship, sharing what they did and learned. “In their final presentation, some students have said they learned more in their 12 weeks here than in two years of college,” Irish said.

“Every year we have been impressed with the content of those presentations,” he added. “These kids do an outstanding job of taking hold of their positions and learning as much as they can in a very short period of time.”

First year intern Taylor Mize did just that. A junior from Missouri State University, Mize worked in the Southwest region of MFA’s trade territory under Region 5 manager, Ed Long.

“I know MFA is respected in the state so I thought it’d be a great company to work for,” Mize said. He learned about the program from classmates who previously worked as Ag Experience interns. They told him the internship would be comparable to a full-time job.

“MFA values interns, which is really important. Some places you work for, you might be the gopher. I knew that wasn’t the kind of experience I would get here,” Mize said.

As a regional intern, Mize saw all facets of MFA’s operations. He helped with daily business in retail stores and made sales calls with store reps. Mize also learned about buying and selling commodities and evaluating budgets.

“It’s been awesome,” Mize said. “I got to see a lot of different things and be with a lot of different people. If there was something I wanted to do or knew wouldn’t fit my career goals, all I had to do was talk to Ed. He was flexible with me.”

Irish said students have the opportunity to experience any area of interest. “We tell them if there’s something they want to see or do, let us know and we’ll try to work that into the program. Opportunities are all over the place,” he said.

Mize plans to pursue a career is grain merchandising. He spent time at MFA retail locations during wheat harvest and visited with grain merchandisers in the home office. “My favorite thing was working at Lamar during wheat harvest,” Mize said. He spent his first day learning how to test wheat for vomitoxin, weight, moisture and damage as customers delivered it. The next day Mize worked in the office learning about contracts and marketing. “I got to see how it comes in and goes out in two days,” Mize said. “It was neat to see some principles you learn in the classroom put into practice.”

Students who perform well sometimes receive an offer to return to MFA the following summer. Mikalah Vogelsmeier was granted that opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. Vogelsmeier heard about the program her freshman year. Knowing MFA was looking for older students, she didn’t expect to get hired. But she applied, hoping to get her foot in the door and gain experience. MFA surprised her with an offer.

Vogelsmeier expected to meet a few people and learn about the company, but she experienced much more. “A lot was expected from me with all the summer projects. I felt like I had a lot of responsibility,” she said.

After her first internship, MFA asked Vogelsmeier to return to the Ag Experience program. “I expressed a lot of interest in the seed division,” she said. This year, MFA offered her an internship in that division, covering the same geographic region as her previous internship.

“They really care about what you want to do and your interests. I was really impressed and had to come back,” she said.

Vogelsmeier’s second internship provided a different focus. “This summer was not so much trial and error—I know what I like. I get to enhance and really learn more about the seed division,” Vogelsmeier said.

She saw what salesmen deal with on rainy days and how important customer service is in agricultural businesses. “Working with the seed division, I got to see how salesmen start relationships with customers and continue to build that relationship,” she said.

“I’m a hands-on learner. Being able to see things you learn about in the classroom really enhances that knowledge,” Vogelsmeier said.

This year Vogelsmeier conducted a survey with area growers to identify what they want from a salesperson. The survey asked how farmers determine where to do business and what makes them a repeat customer. The survey asked MFA customers and non-customer farmers to evaluate the company and its seed lineup. Growers shared what factors are important when making purchasing decisions.

“People really value attention, and they like other people to get to them in a timely manner,” Vogelsmeier said. “Some like a lot of contact and others don’t. It really showed me there are no two people the same.”

Mize and Vogelsmeier hope to work for MFA full-time.

“The program is doing what we expected it to do,” Irish said.

Since 2013, eight students have accepted jobs as full-time employees. And a handful of students continue working part-time through the school year.

“It’s a great program,” Irish said. “We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a good class of students every year. The enthusiasm is refreshing. Without fail they are excited about what they’re doing.”

Students interested in the Ag Experience program can get an application from their school, classroom recruiters, MFA retail stores or by visiting www.mfa-inc.com/Youth.aspx.

 

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