Did you know we have a podcast section to our website? During planting and harvest season, we know you’re out in the fields and don’t have as much time to read, but you want to keep up with the news. So catch up and fill your time in the combine by listening to news updates and original industry updates from our office.
Leslie Vangeison, Controller – WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients – Americas at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) uses math skills and agriculture knowledge every day to help an agricultural company make business decisions.
Her work over 17 years with the company to prepare monthly results, reporting, and internal controls for grain elevators and the transportation network (truck, rail, barge, and ocean-going vessels), helped the company remain profitable and make important decisions – decisions like acquiring new business ventures of which Leslie is now Controller!
Lindsay: What was your path or journey to this career?
Leslie: I grew up on a farm, and was active in 4-H and FFA growing up. This background knowledge of the ag industry was very valuable as I became an adult and started working as an accountant for a major agribusiness.
I started with ADM in an internship position during my Junior year of college at Millikin University in Decatur.
The first 14 years of my 17 years with the company was in the Ag Services segment. This segment includes grain elevators owned by ADM that purchase grain from farmers and the transportation network that we use to move the grain all over the world to the end buyers. During my time in the Ag Services segment, I also had the opportunity to work from our office in Hamburg, Germany for about 5 months to lead the Global Ocean Freight accounting team when it began.
The past 2 years I have been a Controller in the newly formed WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients segment. This new segment was formed in January 2015 after ADM completed its largest acquisition to date, WILD Flavors. Since then there have been other acquisitions of food ingredient companies which have become a part of this segment. This segment also includes several food ingredient businesses that ADM has been operating for several years.
Lindsay: What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your job?
Leslie: The most rewarding part of my job is working for a company that actively seeks to provide new and innovative food options for an ever-growing global population. Also in my current role I have the opportunity to work on acquisitions. As each one comes together a little differently that work is both rewarding and challenging. Another challenging aspect is that frequently we are presented with something we haven’t encountered before. Accounting standards change and business needs change so there is really a lot to stay on top of.
Lindsay: I like that you seem passionate about using your math and accounting skills to feed the world. That isn’t a combination that most people would think of.
Leslie: I guess not!
Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?
Leslie: Hard work, determination, ability to manage multiple priorities, and willingness to do more than what is expected are all key factors for success. A Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting is required for Accounting positions at ADM.
Lindsay: Describe a “day in the life” at your office.
Leslie: My role is very different from an accounting role that someone would come into out of college and for their first several years of their career. As I manage roughly 30 people in multiple offices, a lot of my day depends on what issues or questions others have and consists of providing guidance to ensure that we are meeting our overall objectives.
Depending on the day, I usually have several meetings to attend or join online with colleagues in the U.S. or around the world. I am based out of the North America Headquarters in Decatur, IL where we have almost 2 floors of accountants. Something I have really enjoyed in my career is the opportunity to work with the business whether it’s those that manage the facilities, those that are focused on buying and selling products, or those that have overall responsibility for results of a business. So I frequently get requests and questions from other areas.
Lindsay: Do you have advice for someone that might want a career like yours?
Leslie: It is important to work in an industry that interests you. While as an accountant, the day-to-day tasks are finance related, you have the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different things. It really will make a difference in how you feel about coming to work every day if you’re working in an area that you enjoy, and I definitely have a heart for agriculture and providing food to the world.
Lindsay: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today!
Leslie: No problem.
1. Illinois corn farmers are growing field corn, not sweet corn.
I know this is confusing – but 99% of the corn grown in Illinois is not the corn you eat on your dinner table. That corn is sweet corn, bred for its sugar content so that it tastes so amazing! The corn we grow in Illinois is field corn (or dent corn) that is bred for starch.
Field corn is a grain. Sweet corn is a vegetable.
2. Illinois planted 88 million acres of field corn and 555,000 acres of sweet corn.
We also grew 13.6 billion bushels of field corn compared to 137 million bushel equivalents.(Equivalents because sweet corn is weighed still on the cob so we have to remove the cob to make them comparable.) And the crop value of Illinois field corn is $49 billion – considerably more than sweet corn’s $1.02 billion value.
Sweet corn is shorter, has larger tassels visible, and is often a lighter green. Field corn is taller, has smaller visible tassels, and is darker green. We harvest sweet corn in the milk stage in the middle of summer. We harvest field corn in the fall when the plant starts to die and the corn kernels dry up.
4. Illinois is in the top five states in ag cash income and crop cash receipts.
In English, this is code for the Illinois economy is built on ag. It’s one of our top industries. Illinois is the number 2 corn producer (behind Iowa), the number 3 ethanol producer, number 2 in pork production, and the largest exporter of corn in the country!
5. Most of the corn grown in Illinois is exported out of the state.
In Illinois, 47 percent of the corn is exported out of the state. Of the remaining corn, 27 percent is made into ethanol, 21 percent is used for processing (corn plastic, high fructose corn syrup, etc), and 5 percent is used to feed cows, pigs, and chickens.
Of that 27 percent used for ethanol, 1/3 is sold as a by-product of ethanol production that makes an excellent livestock feed. So some of the ethanol corn is actually used twice – by the ethanol industry and the animal agriculture industry.
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Harvest season is in full effect, but it doesn’t work like most seasons do: there isn’t always a concrete timetable or schedule for the farmer to follow. Farmers start and finish at different times. Why does this happen? There are multiple factors that influence harvest progress, but weather is arguably the most important factor. Late summer and early fall weather forecasts are notoriously unpredictable in the Midwest. Sometimes harvest can be delayed for days due to unwelcome rain and then even more time may be needed to let the crop dry. If you add in a planting season so wet that many farmers had to replant crops that were washed out, some farmers are further ahead than others.
As of last Friday, here’s where farmers around the state were in their harvest:
*Note. Important term below: “the historical average” – the average yield of a crop that a farmer’s own land has produced over a certain period of time. Think of it like a baseline for what is normal for that land to produce. (Ag people know this as the actual production history – a component of crop insurance)
Dirk Rice, Philo: Corn is 20% done. At this point, I would guess 5-7% above the historical average. Stalks are getting brittle; we aren’t getting discounted, but we have fairly significant percentages of discolored kernels. Still going to likely end up being my 3rd best corn harvest year.
Jeff Jarboe, Loda: We’re 20% complete and our yield is 15-20% above the historical production average.
Jim Reed, De Land: As of this evening (10/1), I will be 60% done with corn. Yields are around 30 bushels per acre better than the historical average. It looks to be the third best crop ever after 2015 and 2014 (so maybe it’s average?). Corn is really dry. Have yet to see a load with over 19% moisture.
Mike Wurmnest, Deer Creek: We are 65% done with corn. Moisture is running about 18% with some stalk breakage. Yields are 20% above the five-year average.
Paul Jeschke, Mazon: We are 40% done on corn and our yield is 15% above the historical average.
Randy DeSutter, Woodhull: We are about one-third (33%) done with corn. So far, this year’s corn harvest is our best ever. The yields in 2014 were not out of this world for us. So, I guess this is our 2014. At this point, our yield is 10-15% better than the historical average, at 230-260 bushels per acre.