Willie Hawkins: Sentimental Ag Professional
“All the way up until junior year of high school, I just wanted to farm,” says Hawkins, who now works as a Syngenta retail sales representative in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I had no aspiration to go to college.”
His father was a farm manager who grew tobacco and raised beef cattle on land owned by others. Hawkins figured he would follow in those same footsteps.
Then during his junior year, Hawkins’ ag teacher/FFA adviser sat down with him for a heart-to-heart. The teacher pointed out how difficult it would be to make a living as a tenant farmer. The conversation stuck with the young Hawkins, although he wasn’t quite yet sold on college.
That changed during the summer of 1981, between his junior and senior years. Hawkins attended an FFA camp in another part of the state where he met a young woman named Elizabeth.
That fall, they exchanged letters. They had a date during the state fair and attended each other’s school dances senior year. Elizabeth had always planned on college; her father was a longtime educator. Suddenly, the idea of post-secondary education was more appealing to the teenage Hawkins.
“I actually got to thinking that if I’m going to be a part of her family, I’d better decide to try college,” Hawkins says, laughing.
Education to Educator
He and Elizabeth began their college careers apart, but he eventually transferred to Western Kentucky University to be with her. After graduation, he began working as a high school ag teacher, just as his father-in-law did.
"I love coming up with solutions for the challenges that growers face every year. I love helping a grower produce a good quality crop."
Paying it forward, he served as the school’s FFA adviser and made a point of taking students on out-of-town trips, including the National Farm Machinery Show, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky. In his first trip to the show and championship tractor pull in 1987, he accompanied a group of 80 students and parents. Back then, he had no idea that he would end up working for Syngenta, which sponsors the tractor pull each year.
“Little did I know then how much goes on behind the scenes,” he says.
Today, he helps manage a significant portion of the company’s participation in the show and tractor pull.
Pulling for a Winner
After a little more than a decade in the classroom, Hawkins decided to transition into ag sales. He began his new career with a Syngenta legacy company in the late 90s and hasn’t looked back. In his present role, Hawkins calls on distributors and retail customers, maintains relationships with farmers, and organizes meetings with retailers and growers.
As someone who enjoys interacting with ag professionals, the work suits him. “I love coming up with solutions for the challenges that growers face every year,” he says. “I love helping a grower produce a good quality crop.”
click to tweet
“It’s a yearly homecoming for agriculture, mixed in with some ‘farmer Mardi Gras,’” he says.
For a Kentucky farm boy dedicated to the industry, that’s not a bad combination at all.
Brenda and Marin Wolgamott: A Wine-Producing Mother and Daughter Duo
Grape growing and winemaking are the bonds that keep this family succeeding in the ag industry..