Stephanie Schwenke: Stand up, Have a Voice
Early Days on the Farm
Growing up, Schwenke’s family raised dairy cattle and grew corn, soybeans, wheat and tobacco. A standard day meant early-morning chores around the farm, a full day of school, after-school activities and then a return to the farm. She remembers her childhood as a busy, rewarding time.
“All of my siblings played an active role in the farm,” she says. “We all took turns waking up at 4:30 a.m. to feed the dairy cattle before school. During the summers and school breaks, we were almost always on the farm bailing hay, picking up rocks from the fields by hand and completing other small tasks.”
Schwenke stayed active in agriculture even when she wasn’t working on the farm. In high school, she was very involved in FFA. That’s where she says she received the advice from a teacher who helped propel her career.
“She told me that there would always be room for women in agriculture, and that the industry needed our voice and our leadership to diversify,” Schwenke says.
Staying Close to Home
Schwenke studied agronomy and business management at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was only a 20-minute drive back to the family farm. After graduation, she stayed close to home, taking a job in agronomy sales. She was consulting growers she had known her whole life. She says the job was difficult at times, because being a woman in agriculture, especially sales, was out of the ordinary.
“Not everyone in the industry wanted to do business with a woman,” she says. “It was a struggle back then to establish trust in my knowledge. Some growers just didn’t want to listen to what I had to say. But once I was able to demonstrate my expertise, my customers treated me the same as any of my colleagues.”
“Don’t focus on the fact that you may be the only woman in the room in certain industries. Stand up, have a voice and lead the way for continued diversification.”
A Career With Syngenta
Schwenke took her experiences and her passion for agriculture and built a valuable career at Syngenta. She spent seven years on the agriculture side of the company, working across the herbicide portfolio and traveling around the world to understand growers’ needs. She then transitioned to the Syngenta turf business, which includes golf course and sports turf management as well as lawn and landscape.
Today, she also takes her passion for turf outside the organization. She is a member of 10 different industry organizations and supports collaborations with the GCSAA, NALP, STMA, World Golf Foundation, National Football League, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.
She says it was her agricultural roots that enabled her to find success. “Growing up in a farm setting gave me more responsibility to make decisions, take actions, work hard, get up early and put in long days,” she says. “Those were all things that have made me who I am today.”
The Next Generation in Agriculture
Schwenke now has two children of her own. She’s trying to instill in them the values she learned on the family farm.
“We take the opportunity several times a year to go back to Wisconsin to visit family and see the farm,” Schwenke says. “My son is only 9 years old, but he asks me to set the alarm for him to get up at 5:30 a.m. so he can help feed the steer. He also loves to help plant and harvest crops. He’s fascinated by it.”
Schwenke also has a daughter, and she gives her the same advice that she gives to young women interested in agriculture.
“Don’t focus on the fact that you may be the only woman in the room in certain industries,” Schwenke says. “Stand up, have a voice and lead the way for continued diversification.”
David Hollinrake: From Farm Boy to Seeds Executive
This Syngenta leader has lived the American dream and carved a path of success in the industry.