GREENWICH, N.Y. — Christie Wiebbecke’s journey in agriculture started with goats. Originally from Traer, Iowa, Christie grew up on a homestead that raised dairy goats. Part of her upbringing involved the regular milking of goats and showing them at local fairs. Christie’s father owned and operated a seed and chemical business. When she was older Christie helped out in the office and kept the books for the business.
Christie attended Iowa State University originally planning to study sociology and have a career outside of agriculture. However, in the summer prior to her first year of college, she had the chance to work with a soybean breeder. Working as a “crosser” she manually pollinated soybean plants crossing male and female plants in greenhouses and out in fields. Having never really realized the research side of agriculture that went into the crops that grow in the field, Christie saw the industry in a whole new light and was intrigued. She changed her major to agronomy in her second semester leaning in to the science behind agriculture.
Upon graduating Christie did not immediately enter the field of agriculture. She shared, “On my graduation day as I was about to walk the stage to receive my diploma one of my mentor professors said, ‘You should really consider being a teacher, Christie.’” Her mother was a teacher and she had always been interested in education. So, she decided to get a master’s in education and was a science teacher at a school in the Mojave Desert in California. Christie enjoyed her four and a half years as a teacher and was able to incorporate ag material into her classes.
Eventually she decided to return to Iowa and stepped into soybean research. For 17 years Christie worked for both Monsanto Company and Bayer as a soybean breeder and soybean product manager. During this time, she also earned a doctorate in soybean breeding from Iowa State University. As a soybean breeder, Christie helped develop soybean varieties with qualities to meet specific growing needs. She said, “As a breeder you envision what a farmer would want in their fields identifying the right genetics for the environment.” In her product manager role Christie aligned products to independent seed companies’ brand strategies and recommended varieties to grow their product portfolio.
Today, Christie serves as the Chief Officer of Research and Conservation for the Iowa Soybean Association. The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) is a farmer-led organization founded 60 years ago to serve Iowa soybean farmers. In this role Christie heads ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI). The RCFI works in the areas of research and conservation conducting on-farm research projects and field trials to support soybean farmers in the state. The RCFI works to gain insights to better soybean productivity, profitability, and sustainability. Projects cover a range of topics including: cover crops, soil health, soybean quality, drainage, and more.
As Chief Officer Christie leads a team of nearly forty individuals and supports the research projects happening across the state. She helps coordinate and collaborate research projects with Iowa State University and other contracted research programs. In her Chief Officer role, she also provides leadership and strategic support to Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, a team focused on increasing the scale and pace of farmer-led water quality projects in Iowa.
Christie explained that agricultural research involves close work with everyday farmers. “As researchers we take questions farmers have and determine experiments to find researchable answers for them,” she said. “After testing strategies, we then help farmers to implement them on their land. Our work to support farmers is two-fold conducting research and providing technical implementation.”
For anyone considering a career in the field of agriculture Christie advises broad thinking, persistence, and relationship building. “Think outside the box and take experiences you have had outside of agriculture and find ways to thread them in,” mentioned Christie. As an educator she was able to work her agriculture background into aspects of her teaching and today she draws from her teaching experiences in her current job. Persistence involves taking the opportunities that come your way. As she put it, “Push on the doors that open for you. Don’t slam doors shut.” She also encouraged remembering the relationships you make along the way as they can help you and others. “Whatever career path you are following and whatever doors you are opening make sure you build and support relationships throughout your career. It is special when you can help someone else find their path in life,” shared Christie.
For anyone interested in Christie’s work she is willing to answer questions people have by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Morning Ag Clips presents “Cultivating Ag Careers,” a series that introduces agriculture students and FFAers to the wide variety of careers that exist in agriculture. Each month a new individual will share their journey: their educational experiences, their work, and what role their job plays in the wide world of agriculture.
Tune in to learn more about the different jobs and personalities that make up the ag industry!