Caydee Savinelli: Syngenta Champion for Pollinator Health and Integrated Pest Management

Interest in her grandfather’s citrus grove helped this Syngenta scientist develop a passion for the agriculture industry.
Caydee Savinelli fosters a passion for the agriculture industry
In 1960, before interstates were a nationwide staple, Caydee Savinelli’s grandfather drove from New York to Florida on U.S. Route 1 with a single goal in mind: purchasing 200 acres of citrus ground.

“My nonno [grandfather in Italian] came to the United States from southern Italy outside of Naples, where a lot of citrus, including lemons for limoncello, is grown,” she says. “When he retired, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a full-time farmer, growing Valencia oranges for juice and fresh grapefruit. We used to visit him when we were kids, and I loved driving around the grove with him in his old car and looking at the various types of orange trees.”

Little did her grandfather know that his retirement dream would end up influencing his granddaughter’s career path in a profound way. Savinelli, who now serves as the pollinator and integrated pest management (IPM) stewardship lead for Syngenta, can’t overstate her grandfather’s impact enough.

“I was heavily influenced by being around him, loving agriculture, and that’s really why I got into it,” she says.

From Oranges to Insects

Savinelli wasn’t exactly sure what her career in agriculture would be until she took an entomology class when she was 18. “I was in school studying biology, and I took a course in entomology with the best professor I ever had, Dr. Robert Barnes,” she says. “I knew right then and there that I was going to be an entomologist.”

After earning her bachelor's degree in biology from Gettysburg College, Savinelli earned her Master of Science in entomology from the Pennsylvania State University, and her doctorate in entomology from North Carolina State University. Since then, she has held various positions in product development at Syngenta and its legacy companies for more than 32 years.

Savinelli’s current Syngenta title is a testament to her ability to wear many hats. Her work priorities include promoting the benefits of neonicotinoid and pyrethroid insecticides and providing leadership for issues related to insect resistance management. She is a member of the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) and the Entomological Society of America, and works closely with CropLife America.

"I think learning is really key—a willingness to hear the other side and try to understand challenges others may be facing."

Caydee Savinelli
Her other role is related to Operation Pollinator, an international biodiversity program from Syngenta that works to boost the number of pollinating insects by creating forage and habitats in golf courses and marginal farmlands. Savinelli collaborates with a number of conservation groups, including Delta F.A.R.M., Pheasants Forever and Trees Forever, to implement the program in the agriculture space.

“Farmers have to be able to grow crops on their land, and beekeepers have to be able to sustain their bees,” she says. “We have to find that balance where they can both survive under the same conditions. You can’t have one without the other. That’s really important to me, and it’s important to find that balance.”

The Lasting Impact of Education

Savinelli’s rise in the agriculture industry wasn’t without its challenges. She credits her success in overcoming those hurdles to learning and adapting to unfamiliar circumstances.

“Wherever you go, you have to be willing to adapt to the culture and not come in with, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it,’” she says. “You have to be willing to see how things are done and learn. I think learning is really key—a willingness to hear the other side and try to understand challenges others may be facing.”

Champion for pollinator health inspired by grandfather's #citrus farm.

click to tweet

As a woman in the agriculture industry, Savinelli had to use this adaptability with a sense of self-confidence among her colleagues. “If I made a commitment, I followed through on it,” she explains. “I like to jump into new opportunities with both feet. I also know I have to make sure to speak my mind and finish what I have started.”

Her love of learning also goes beyond her academic degrees and professional career. “We have a program [through my church] for children in Ecuador that we sponsor so they can get an education,” Savinelli says. “I like that because, having come from a family that didn’t have anything but education, I really believe firmly in education.”

If not for that love of education, she may never have landed at Syngenta in a role tailored to her talents and deep-seeded interests. “I used to be deathly afraid of spiders as a child, but once I started to study insects and spiders, I said, ‘These are marvelous,’” Savinelli says. “I can combine entomology with agriculture, and it’s a home run.”