Beyond butter at Land O’Lakes: Opening a window into high-tech ag

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - 3:45pm

As senior director of IT services at Land O’Lakes, Derek Shaw knows what it means to collaborate on the job—with co-op members, other agriculture businesses, and a multitude of technology companies. So when a Carlson School of Management professor asked if someone from Land O’Lakes would guest lecture, Shaw volunteered.

Inspiring students: For the past three years, Shaw has taught hundreds of students enrolled in the required course, Introduction to Information Technology in Business. Delivering his lecture three times a year to every section of the class—sometimes as many as seven per semester—he inspires students to think differently about agriculture, IT, and collaboration.

“I want students to think about where food comes from and the impact of the world’s population growing to 9 billion. How do we feed all these people? It comes back to collaborating and the technology we use to improve food quality and the yield for farmers,” says Shaw, who is responsible for keeping all of Land O’Lakes’ information technology systems up and running.

Shaw wants to give students the same memorable experience he had listening to guest lectures in college, providing real-world examples to pique their interest in food careers. It appears to be working. After each class, students ask how to apply for internships or jobs, and several have been hired for technology positions.

Highlighting Land O’Lakes: While teaching about collaboration, Shaw highlights the high-tech work happening at Land O’Lakes. “There’s a misperception that farming is low-tech, but farmers are using satellites to map their fields, pursuing autonomous tractors, and investing in precision agriculture,” he notes. “I’m trying to create awareness of how technology is changing the farming industry and show students that we go beyond being a butter company.”

Photo: Derek Shaw, Land O’Lakes