When Chris Morson left home to study psychology and earn a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, he never dreamed that his career path would lead him to a successful and fulfilling role in agricultural manufacturing. Currently working with Raven Industries, a technology solutions provider for Agriculture manufacturing with their autonomous platform OMNiPOWER™ as Sales Specialist, he was excited to share his passion for agriculture, manufacturing, and his perspective on what it will take to get more students to seriously consider a career in agriculture.
Morson was raised in Langbank, Saskatchewan in a family with farming on the paternal side and oil on the maternal side. When Morson was about five or six, his parents decided to leave the farm and work at the oil company in Alameda, Saskatchewan. Although too far away to help on the home farm, his father kept his hand in helping local farmers around Alameda. Morson says he, “understood and respected farming, but just never had the bug at all, not growing up on the farm.”
A career path needn’t be row straight
When Morson left for university to study psychology and then hotel and restaurant management, his parents sold the oil company to their hired man and bought back into the family farm in Langbank. Given the economic difficulties of the 80s, the return to farming didn’t work out as expected. However, Seed Hawk opened and Morson’s father became one of the company’s first employees. When family health issues came about, Morson decided to move home to Langbank and took a job with Seed Hawk on the factory floor. The company soon realized Morson’s outgoing personality would make him a great ambassador and started sending him to trade shows and training events. Within a year he was asked to move into sales and marketing.
Morson spent 10 years with Seed Hawk through the transition over to Vaderstad and then moved on to Farmer’s Edge for four years as digital ag lead. An important part of that job was acting as an interface between the company and producers and reporting back on whether he felt that R&D was on the right track to shape the product into what farmers needed it to be.
On one such farm visit to Norbert Beaujot’s farm, Morson drove right up to DOT (now OMNiPOWER™) and knew instantly that he wanted to be part of bringing autonomy to the industry. The opportunity came up a couple of years later and Morson joined the DOT team shortly before it was acquired by Raven Industries. Raven was then acquired by CNH Industrial which led Morson from working from a “little boutique 35-person company” to being one of about 1,300, and then one of a team of around 60,000.
That might have felt like being swallowed up by first a lake and then an ocean, but Morson says, “The horsepower of both Raven and CNH being injected into this project is just amazing – how fast it’s able to move and come to market and attract talent and find the proper engineers and tool sets. It’s good but it’s a very different direction than I thought my career was going to go when I decided to work at DOT.”
Not so typical week at the office
“There’s a long list of things that I like about working in agriculture, but probably one of my favourites is that I can answer that question the same every time; I don’t have a typical week.” Morson continues, “I have a plan of certain things I have to be at when it comes to trade shows and meetings that I’m going to have to make it to, but every week is different – new customers, new challenges, it is anything but stale.
“This is what we need to get out [to prospective employees]. Especially on the engineering side, we are moving at lightning-fast pace, way faster than the average person that has nothing to do with agriculture would ever guess.” Morson uses OMNiPOWER™ as an example, “This was basically drawn on a pizza box less than four years ago and now we’re dragging it all over the world showing everybody that we’re doing this. We’re not done, there’s perception systems and all kinds of work on this but it works and it’s in the field in practice right now. I guarantee the automotive industry started on this long before we did and have a lot more companies all contributing to it and we’re just pounding it out and that’s good old farmer ingenuity.” Morson says he doesn’t know anyone on the ag manufacturing side that didn’t start as a farm shop that saw a need for a piece of machinery to be built better than it was, and they built a few and sold to the neighbours and things grew and before long they were occupying a piece of a much larger market. Ag manufacturing is a tight industry for that.
Morson’s education in hotel management and psychology perhaps isn’t typical of what you might expect for someone working in ag manufacturing, “I kind of fell into ag because of Seed Hawk and that being a local company. I love the industry. I love the people.” he says, “You’re starting to run into all kinds of educations now as we’re attracting more and more talent to it.”
Although remote meetings are fairly new for many, having been necessitated by COVID-19 protocols, Morson says he’s been working remotely for 16 years. “The industry not only supports me, they encourage me in it. Staying grounded out by where your customers are is an incredibly valuable thing for the manufacturers in this industry. It certainly causes the odd pain point, but for the most part the benefit has been huge enough that they’ve encouraged me to go ahead and work remotely.”
What can the industry do to attract the right people?
Part of the issue with ag manufacturing attracting the right people in sufficient numbers, Morson feels, is a romanticized image of agriculture. “A lot of people think hayseed. It’s somewhat our own fault for marketing divisions wanting it to look like this romantic thing but there are powerful exciting careers in this industry, and we just need to let the world know.”
These ‘manufactured’ misconceptions of ag manufacturing are coupled with natural misconceptions that anyone may have who isn’t employed on a farm or in an ag manufacturing facility to reduce visibility of the industry. As Morson points out, even he had misconceptions about agriculture. “I just didn’t think they used technology. I knew there were big tractors and lots of horsepowers, but I never dreamt of being a part of bringing things like sectional control and variable rate and the GPS controls and now robotics and autonomy – I never guessed that the industry would be that quick and accepting of those technologies.”
Ag versus other industries
In many industries, new hires fresh out of training, whether that be college, trade, or university, need to fight long and hard to advance their careers. Not necessarily so in ag, says Morson. For example, jumping as a small coding fish into the big pond of automotive, “I think you’d be writing very simplistic, boring code for years trying to gain your spot whereas if you come to agriculture, I would say within a month you’re going to be doing something that’s going to be changing the way that a robot is doing something in the field. Your career gets to become exciting faster. There’s still going to be a typical workday for a lot of people in this industry, but it’s just fast-tracked.”
Morson says, “I don’t think you’ll find many industries that are more accepting of new technologies quicker.” This is perhaps the least known benefit of ag manufacturing that should be used to attract a young workforce who is not just accepting technology but is embracing it and excited by it.
Who do ag and ag manufacturing need to attract?
“With agriculture we need every career just like every other sector of any other industry needs every career, and the benefit of coming to work for us is the end customer. If you’re willing to go meet them, they would invite you to their kitchen table to get to know them and that’s just not everywhere.”