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Farming for the Future

Growing up on a farm in central Iowa, Dr. Keri Carstens was well aware of the state’s agricultural heritage. What she didn’t realize at that time was Iowa’s importance in advancing the scientific and technological innovations designed to protect our environment and food supply.

“I had no idea about the scope and scale of the research and amazing science that was going on in Iowa until I got to be a part of it,” said Carstens, who is now the global regulatory lead for seed applied technologies and biologicals for Corteva Agriscience in Johnston, Iowa. Her job is to work with scientists and other specialists to help secure approvals for farmers’ safe use of the company’s products.

Carstens is also an assistant professor at Iowa State University (ISU), where she earned both her master’s and doctorate degrees. She said the educational and research opportunities available at ISU and the state’s 59 other colleges and universities are top-notch, especially where agriculture, science and environmental stewardship intersect.

“We have some amazing professors at our colleges and universities who are teaching students how to do research at a very early age,” she said. “And at places like Iowa State and the University of Iowa, we have some of the top researchers in agriculture in the world.”

Upon completing her doctorate degree in toxicology, Carstens assumed she was destined for a job with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., or for a large company based on either of the coasts.

She received offers to go elsewhere, but she chose to stay home.

“As a person who grew up in Iowa and majored in something that was likely to take me away from the state,” she said, “I thought it was amazing that there was a job opening in both my professional area and in my physical area. Finding a position that helps produce tools farmers need, but also protects the environment was a win-win in my book.”

Carstens said she encounters “incredibly smart people every day” who are advancing the future of farming globally. She often collaborates with specialists like molecular biologists, precision agriculture experts and even people who program self-driving tractors.

All these brilliant people, she explained, are helping farmers overcome obstacles and ensuring food gets to our plates.

“The challenges faced by farmers around the world are complex and ever-evolving,” Carstens said. “We’re working on solutions for everything from water scarcity to pests and diseases that move into new regions and devastate crops.”

Carstens’ job has taken her all around the world and she hears from people who realize “there’s a lot going on in Iowa that they didn’t know about and are just learning about. They’re pleasantly surprised that Iowa is leading in all of these different areas.”

Carstens explained that it shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, Iowa’s location gives it a distinct advantage over those large coastal cities, especially when it comes to studying and researching agricultural science.

“When scientists working in large cities look out the window,” she said, “they don’t see the work that they’re doing directly. I look out the window here and I can see the fields and different products in action. There’s no question that’s an advantage to working in Iowa.”

Published July 22, 2019

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