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HOW LAND O’LAKES USED TALENT SOLUTIONS FOR RAPID GROWTH IN AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY

Feeding human progress is not just a lofty company goal—it’s Land O’Lakes’ purpose. With global population growing to nine billion by 2050—an additional three billion mouths to feed—and less agricultural land to produce the needed food, it will take a sizable application of new agricultural technology to meet this global need.  

Land O’Lakes is a $15 billion, Fortune 200 company with a farm-to-market portfolio of businesses and well-equipped for the challenge. But only 1.4% of the U.S. population is engaged in agriculture meaning that understanding of the challenge and the available talent to address it is limited.

This case study represents one of Land O'Lakes' submissions for i4cp's Next Practice Awards. The winners will be announced in March and will share more detail on stage at the i4cp 2018 Conference: Next Practices Now (March 26 - 29 in Scottsdale, Arizona).

Business challenge

Land O’Lakes fastest-growing business, WinField United (“win in the field”), was making huge investments in technology and projecting rapid growth. The company was leveraging biotech, scientific answer plots, satellite imagery, crop modeling analysis, micronutrient prescriptions, big data, in-season prescriptions, and other proprietary tools to optimize yield, farm economics and improve sustainability.

HR’s strategic workforce planning confirmed the agricultural technology skills shortage; robust “make-buy” solutions were needed. New jobs such as Master Agronomy Advisor and Precision Agriculture Specialist were forecasted to grow over ten-fold in the next five years.

There was also a sizable shortage of agricultural science grads versus demand; for every 50,000 new agriculture jobs created each year, only 30,000 new grads were available. We needed to expand interest in agriculture careers.

Not only did the company and universities lack sufficient talent and skills for the growth, but Land O’Lakes’ agriculture retailers/owners (local coops) and the farmer-owners of the local coops (the farmer-grower) lacked the talent and skill as well. Both needed trusted-tech-savvy advisers to get the technology on the acre.

Consumer trends were also changing and there was a need for agile teaming across the industry’s value chain from food companies all the way back to the farm for solutions like sustainability.

A Land O’Lakes WinField United employee demonstrates the latest in satellite imagery technology on the farm.  

Solution

Land O’Lakes solved the talent shortage with both conventional and “out of the box” solutions with other companies, expanded the visibility and opportunity for agriculture careers tied to broader global purpose, and leveraged talent in agile teams across the food/agriculture industry value chain. Specific solutions included:

1)  Growing the talent pipeline by aggressive new grad recruiting and building talent acceleration Programs (TAP) with cross-company rotations with their agriculture retailers

In 2012, Land O’Lakes established a WinField University to grow internal talent. They also began recruiting external talent. But there weren’t enough internal or externally available candidates to meet the demand.

Then the Land O’Lakes college relations team stepped up. Supported by management at all levels, they played an instrumental role; in 2007, Land O’Lakes had 17 interns and participated in 11 campus events. By 2016, the number grew to 339 interns and 305 campus events. They recruited another 70 interns for their retail agricultural coops. Interns were converted to full-time hires.

The team created strong relationships with select universities, organizations, and associations such as Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), HBCUs and Agriculture Future of America (65% in AFA are women). The company made sizable grants to partner with universities, created scholarships for high school students to pursue agricultural degrees, Land O’Lakes executives joined university boards and its presence on campus extended into the classrooms.

These relationships were built for the long-term and at all levels, conscious of the problem of ongoing agricultural graduate shortage and the need to get to the nearly 99% of the U.S. population not involved in agriculture.

Interns hired for Land O’Lakes internships (blue) and for member company owners (yellow).  

Land O’Lakes created a WinField Associate program, rotating associates over two years through marketing, sales, R&D/technology and into their independent retail agricultural coops to provide experience interacting with and selling technology solutions to growers. This program was expanded to supply chain, IT, HR, and finance, and branded as the Talent Acceleration Program (TAP).  

The company also formed a Coop Strategic Talent Council with the CHROs of their largest, most strategic retailer coops [coops are companies in local geographies that market to farmers on their agricultural inputs and have an ownership in Land O’Lakes] to coordinate across their companies on agricultural talent management. 

2)  Launching a global food challenge and emerging leaders for food security program to expand visibility to agriculture and the need for technology to address the global hunger issue

Land O’Lakes is raising visibility of global hunger and the need to feed nine billion people by 2050 through “The Global Food Challenge for Emerging Leaders for Food Security” Program. It enlists exceptional and passionate college students and their professors, has gotten huge social media visibility, is attracting more talent into food and agriculture careers, is growing the company’s employment brand and getting strong visibility to its purpose of feeding human progress.

Every year, students from a variety of educational backgrounds at partner universities submit a resume and one-minute video application to Land O’Lakes that includes a project for food security. Land O’Lakes selects about a dozen students from over 100 exceptional college sophomore’s applicants to be the cross-university cohort of Emerging Leaders for Food Security. They are matched with professors or academic mentors along with company experts to explore critical food security issues and agricultural challenges.

To learn more about hunger, agriculture and sustainability, they attend the Global Food Prize Conference, a week in Africa learning International Development (non-profit segment of Land O’Lakes), a week in Washington to understand agriculture and food policy. Emerging leaders have challenge assignments, complete food security project recommendations, and return to campus as agriculture ambassadors. rpR<

Global Food Challenge in Africa  

3)  Leveraging talent on agile teams for international growth and a new SUSTAIN business

In the last 40 years, Land O’Lakes has conducted over 170 international development projects in 70 countries with agile teams. Because those countries’ economies are ready for technology solutions, Land O’Lakes is now pursuing commercial business through those same agile team approaches. The skills needed are drawn from the units, they identify and pursue business opportunities and execute the business plans. Some of the ventures are profit accretive and growing rapidly.   

Due to consumer trends for sustainability and learning where their food comes from, Land O’Lakes launched a new business called SUSTAIN a year ago. The business has a dozen employees and reaches into other units of Land O’Lakes and outside the company to interested food companies, agriculture retailers and to farmers to leverage technology for sustainability. The company connects its talent across the value chain for customer solutions; their success in partnering outside the company in WinField United and International proved for Land O’Lakes that this was possible.

Results

  • Land O’Lakes has grown its WinField business from $1 billion to $6 billion in ten years; the overall company has doubled in size, has the leading 25% market share in agriculture inputs distribution and 50% market share with growers who leverage technology. The business makes 20%+ ROIC and employs about a third of the company’s 10,000 employees. 
  • Land O’Lakes, Inc. earned distinction on FORTUNE Magazine’s 2017 Change the World, which honors 50 companies that include positive social impact as part of their core business strategy. Microsoft recognizes Land O’Lakes as one of six companies in its Digital Transformation #InRealLife showcase, their new, state-of-the-art Executive Briefing Center. Land O’Lakes has built an agriculture tech presence at South by Southwest (SXSW).  
  • In just nine years, Land O’Lakes has had a 1,576% increase in its number of interns and a 2,772% increase in the number of campus events. This has greatly expanded their employment brand on campus and driven interest to new heights. WinField’s Associates Program has helped them fill 70 critical positions within WinField and their broader cooperative system of companies. More than 175 new grads have been involved in rotation programs, 81% are still employed at Land O’Lakes and diversity is growing in what has been a white male-dominated field--28% are female, 6.5% are minorities.                       
  • In three years, 487 eligible college sophomores have applied to the Global Food Challenge Program, 31 have participated, 85% received offers for a return internship and 59% accepted. Four of the first-year cohort are full time hires. In 2018, applicants grew 48%. Since 2016, social media presence has grown in Facebook by 300%, Twitter 52% and Instagram 64%. 
  • Land O’Lakes’ international and sustainability business units have commercial promise; talent wants to work there. A growing number of CPG companies like Campbell’s, Smithfield and Tyson recognize Land O’Lakes as a sustainability leader and are partnering for providing their consumers what they need.

Conclusion

Land O’Lakes would not have achieved its U.S. and International growth, competitive position, and advanced its purpose of feeding human progress without these aggressive talent solutions and the aggressive leveraging of talent outside of its company borders. Talent was in the critical path and the Land O’Lakes teams rallied to the challenge and achieved the results.

To learn more about Land O’Lakes and its agriculture tech story visit: