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Agronomy: Working in a man's field

Lauren Stai checks a bean field as part of her work as an agronomist with Northern Farmers Co-op Exchange in Williams, Minn. Submitted Photo

WILLIAMS - She wasn't raised on a farm and didn't know anything about crops.

But after Lauren Stai, a 2008 Bemidji High School graduate, interned as a crop scout in high school, she realized she had a passion for agronomy.

"I realized I really enjoyed being out in the field," Stai said. "I knew I would be good at anything hands on and being outside sounded good to me. I thought this was something I would be excited waking up for in the morning, and I could actually make a difference."

Stai graduated from the University of Minnesota Crookston in May with a degree in agronomy, a field which tends to be male-dominated.

"The last time I did a review of our program, which was two years ago, it was about 90 percent male," Rob Proulx, an agronomy lecturer at UMC, said. "In the industry itself, the numbers aren't quite as dramatic, but it is traditionally male-dominated. I think more women are starting to go into it."

Stai said she saw the male-domination as a challenge.

"It motivated me even more," Stai said. "I want to be as knowledgeable as I can about my job and get to the point where I can be helpful to farmers."

She also said she doesn't think being a woman in agronomy is as much of an issue anymore.

"Sometimes I feel like I have to compensate, but I'm not treated any differently," Stai said. "I don't want to give them any reason to think I'm any different from a male agronomist."

After graduation, Stai interviewed for five jobs and received call backs from all of them.

"I knew I wanted to stay close to home, so I chose Williams, Minn.," Stai said.

Stai works at Northern Farmers Co-op Exchange and Northern Excellence Seed.

Her job includes checking fields for pests, collecting soil samples and conducting research.

"So far I've been able to do what I love," Stai said. "I hope I can continue to learn everything I can about crops and soil."

Proulx said her passion for agronomy always impressed him.

"She was one of those students who stopped into her professors' offices to talk about what she had learned at an internship or in class," Proulx said. "She wanted to be good at agronomy. She always wanted to learn more."

Her favorite part of her job is simply being in the field, Stai said.

"I feel like I'm investigating," Stai said. "There are a lot of variables. So many things could go wrong and so many things are out of your control. It definitely keeps me on my toes."