Certified Crop Adviser Program Hires Marketing Manager

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Newswise — MADISON, WI Apr. 11, 2013 -- In 2013, its 20th year, the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) program is looking back on two decades of success. But it's also looking forward. In February, Eric Welsh was hired as Program Manager for CCA Marketing and Communications, and he's expected to play a key role in the program’s future.

Welsh's initial focus at the CCA program, which is administered by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), is to improve communication with the program's 37 local boards in the United States and Canada to help them increase their numbers. “My primary function right now is marketing the CCA program and organizing promotional efforts at the local level,” he says. “Basically, we’re trying to leverage our existing network of CCA boards across North America to get the program the proper marketing it deserves.”

The 27-year old graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007 with a B.S. in agricultural business management, a degree he didn’t imagine receiving when he began college. “I didn’t grow up on a farm,” says Welsh, who is from Hudson, a small town on Wisconsin’s western border about 30 miles from Minneapolis, MN. “I came to Madison to study business, but then agriculture came along. I liked the professors and the people I worked with on a regular basis.”

After graduation, Welsh became a sales representative for Syngenta. He promoted and sold Syngenta products throughout all of western Wisconsin for four years before leaving the company in 2011 to start his own business, Welsh Agronomy. The company provides hybrid corn, soybeans, and alfalfa to growers in the southern part of the state.

His work experience after college has provided a fitting transition to becoming part of the CCA program. “I learned a lot about building relationships and hanging onto customers,” Welsh says. “And I did a lot of crop scouting, and made fertilizer, chemical, and rotational recommendations.”

Luther Smith, ASA’s director of certification and licensing, helped hire Welsh earlier this year. “We were looking for an enthusiastic person with experience in the private sector in agricultural sales,” he says. “Eric has that and understands marketing and communications well.”

Welsh has only been with ASA for two months, but has already familiarized himself with the history of the CCA program. “The program has never adjusted its standards just to increase certification numbers, and we’re never going to do that,” he says. “Maintaining high standards for certification is what’s most important to us.”

Smith and Welsh both agree that increasing the number of CCAs will be the biggest priority for the program in the coming years. “CCA certification establishes a structure for continuing, life-long learning which improves the overall performance of the agronomy profession,” Smith says. “Eric will help us implement strategies that will build awareness of the program with farmers, employers, and potential CCAs.”

Welsh says his main goal is working with young professionals and college undergrads to get them involved in the program early. Currently, CCAs under the age of 35 make up approximately 16% of the program’s members. Welsh believes the key to improving these numbers is encouraging students to take the CCA exam before they graduate. If they pass, they can apply for CCA candidate status. Once they get at least two years of agricultural experience after receiving their bachelor’s degree, they can then then apply for their CCA credential.

“If we increase the awareness at the college level, we’ll be putting more young professionals in the job market with that set of skills,” says Welsh. “More employers will hire these people and then they’ll start to see the program’s value as a necessity for the agricultural industry.”

He’d also like to see the International Certified Crop Adviser (ICCA) of the Year award receive more attention from industry professionals. “If we could get more major agricultural and environmental employers involved, we could make the award more significant and visible to add value to certification,” says Welsh. “It’s a good way to show the public the CCA program’s dedication to agricultural production and the conservation of our natural resources.”

In the short-term, Welsh will remain focused on raising awareness of the CCA program and its important role in continuing education. “We need to improve the value of the program by working through undergrads, employers, and growers at the local level,” he says. “If we continue working with growers and create more awareness for the program, that’s going to create the implicit value. And that’s what we’re after.”


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