Doug Kirkbride: Syngenta Agronomist Works to Help Growers Attain Their Goals
He was 11 years old, riding around rural Illinois in a pickup with his grandfather. It was harvest time, and the combines whirred with the promise of a successful growing season.
As he drove, Kirkbride's grandfather, who farmed for a living, spoke passionately of the responsibility that comes with taking care of the land. He talked about how the entire process starts with a seed and how much attention is required to help it on its journey.
“That conversation has stuck with me,” says Kirkbride, who works as a Syngenta product development agronomy manager in Pana, Illinois. “My grandfather was proud of being able to live off the land.”
In some ways, the aspects of agriculture that appealed to Kirkbride as a boy are the same ones that drive him today. “What other job can you be out in the field, getting dirty? You get to squish bugs and pull weeds. I love it.”
Kirkbride’s roots in agriculture run more than a century deep. His father farms about 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans. The original family homestead is an Illinois Centennial Farm.
As a kid, Kirkbride helped out with the family business. He raised a small herd of Simmental cattle and participated in FFA shows. After graduating from college, Kirkbride, who had a growing family of his own, decided to move away from the family farm.
“At the time, the ag economy was a little tough,” he says. “The farm couldn’t provide an income for two families. It was a tough decision, but when we look back on it, we’re glad we did it.”
“My role is a little unique within Syngenta. I’m a player-coach. The player part of it keeps me grounded. I have a pulse on what is going on in the field.”
Kirkbride started in ag retail, selling seed and chemicals. It was about this time that he made a discovery that would change the arc of his career. “Working in retail is where I discovered my passion for agronomy,” he says. As growers brought him their challenges, Kirkbride found that he was inspired to help. He went back to school and earned a master’s degree in agronomy. He then joined Syngenta in 2005.
Working Close to Home
Today, Kirkbride’s job allows him the flexibility to work from home. It’s a role he cherishes, particularly because it allows him to raise his family not far from where he grew up. “I’ve lived a sheltered life,” he says with a laugh. “Outside of college, I’ve lived within a 25-mile radius my entire life.”
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“My role is a little unique within Syngenta,” he says. “I’m a player-coach. The player part of it keeps me grounded. I have a pulse on what is going on in the field.”
Kirkbride leads a team of seven agronomists, who handle the territory east of the Mississippi River. It’s a big territory, with a wide variety of soils and a different set of challenges that come with each one. He helps oversee a number of research sites—including a small site in Pana—where the latest Syngenta seeds and chemicals are field-tested.
These outdoor classrooms allow Syngenta reps and growers to team together to determine which approaches work best for which soils, management practices and weather patterns. It’s an ongoing process.
“We help growers grow more,” Kirkbride says. “I still learn. I don’t know everything; I never will. Every year is a new learning opportunity.”
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