Iowa STEM Blog

Monday, March 3, 2021

By: Emily Fuerst, R&D Director, Crop Technologies, Kemin Industries

From crop development to livestock care, STEM exists in every part of agriculture. As a leader in agricultural production, Iowa uses science, technology, engineering and math to help feed the world and create essential products.

In Iowa, there are family farms, farm equipment manufacturers and agriscience companies dedicated to research and development. That means Iowans touch every part of the agricultural process, from crop research to final harvest.

Emily Fuerst, Research and Development (R&D) Director, Kemin Crop Technologies, at Kemin Industries, is one of many Iowans working in agriculture. Her team is researching how to make agriculture more efficient and effective, with an eye on feeding the growing global population. Learn more about her and her work below.

Tell us a little bit about your education and career path so far.

As a kid, I always loved science and being outdoors, so it made sense that I pursued a career in science. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno. Interestingly, the biochemistry department there had a lot of insect biochemists, which really prepared me for getting my master’s degree in entomology from Iowa State University.

I was originally hired by Kemin as part of the biochemistry and molecular biology group within the Kemin Industries Discovery Research team. I worked on many diverse projects focused on the development of small molecules of interest to Kemin, including beta-cryptoxanthin, recombinant forms of protease inhibitor II, and enzymes for feed and production.

Over the years, I grew in leadership at Kemin and served for two years as the interim R&D Director for Kemin Animal Health and Nutrition–South America, based in Brazil. I then started to develop products for the greenhouse and agricultural crop markets in the U.S. While obtaining my Executive MBA from the University of Iowa, I helped initiate the Crop Technologies group—now known as Kemin Crop Technologies—as its own business unit among the multiple industries Kemin serves. My team is responsible for launching biopesticides and nutritional products for specialty crops.

What does your day look like in your current position? What about for your team as a whole?

On an average day, I spend a lot of time in meetings, discussing projects and trials, and providing support to our sales, regulatory, quality, and technical teams. Our research team is still relatively small, so I’m lucky to still have an opportunity to get into the lab and field from time to time to help in the new product development process.

What made you interested in pursuing a career related to agriculture?

My background in biochemistry and entomology easily lends itself to involvement in agriculture. So many people are impacted by agriculture every day—from wearing clothes with cotton to eating fruit.

I love the vision of Kemin to sustainably transform the quality of life every day for 80% of the world with our products and services. As an ingredient manufacturer, we achieve this through the multiple industries we serve.

As someone in agriculture working to develop solutions for growers and food production, I’m able to make this immediate connection, which is very rewarding. I am so excited when we visit a customer who is happy with our products and get to see how Kemin Crop Technologies helps them in their production and business.

What excites you about the field you work in?

The way we grow and produce food is continually changing, whether for market demand, safety, regulatory, financial or environmental reasons. We always need to improve the way we do things, and I like being part of the development of new botanical and biologically based solutions that are safe, effective and sustainable.

As a researcher, it is easy to see the connection between your job and STEM. But some other connections between agriculture and STEM can be less obvious. Where else do you see STEM in agriculture?

STEM is all around—equipment and data analysis farmers use, such as computers for running equipment; weather monitor stations; drone inspections; and even more.

Every farmer understands the needs for crop nutrition, soil management, protection from pests and growth cycles, but ensuring that harvest makes it safely to the table is also key to agriculture. This involves proper post-harvest washing, handling, packaging, storage and coordinated delivery logistics to get the freshest products to consumers.

Why do you think it’s important to highlight the different ways agriculture uses STEM concepts?

A lot of people don’t stop to consider all the ways STEM impacts their lives. Agriculture is so important, and it’s not as simple as people may perceive. Raising a crop, rearing animals and feeding the growing masses of our society takes hard work, innovation and passion. Through the advances of STEM and resulting breakthroughs, we have been able to successfully produce agricultural surplus in the U.S. for export. I hope that people can appreciate the job opportunities and realize agriculture offers many STEM-related careers beyond the traditionally associated roles.  

What do you think the future of agriculture will be like, especially with STEM in mind?

Agriculture will continue to yield technological advances, improved chemistries, more refined improvements and, I foresee, more automation with increased data collection and analysis. This will allow growers to make more specific applications and changes in the growing process, such as diversified fertilizer applications on a field. I also expect technological advances that will increase sustainability of agriculture with increased environmental and worker safety.

What advice would you have for students interested in agriculture and STEM?

Something worth doing usually requires some work. Don’t be intimidated by a tough class. During difficult subjects, I always reminded myself that there have been others before me that succeeded, so I could do it too. Follow your passion and know that if you work in agriculture, you will have an impact on the environment, the world food supply and more.

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