Syngenta Agronomist Builds on Family Legacy

Published online: Apr 24, 2019 Articles Steve Werblow
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Source: Syngenta Thrive

There are two themes that run through Christine May's family—agriculture and teaching. Her father, David Weaver, a plant breeder and agronomy professor at Auburn University, is the son of an ag teacher. Her mother, Susan Bruener, the daughter of an extension director, is a retired middle school science teacher with ties to the Florida citrus industry. The Highlands County (Florida) Extension Service is even based in a building named after May's grandfather, citrus farmer and former Florida legislator Bert Harris, Jr. 

May is keenly aware of her family legacy, and she builds on it each day in her role as a Syngenta agronomy service representative. 

"I work with the three R&D scientists in my territory, which includes parts of southern California, all of Arizona and all of Hawaii,” she says. “I help them understand the commercial side of things and work with them to get local data for product launches. Then, I help them get that new product to customers. If there's a particular question around local pests or issues, I work with the R&D scientists to set up cooperator trials with a university, a farm adviser or a contract researcher. I get to work in agriculture, which I enjoy, and I also get to do the science." 

Bugs in the Plan 

May’s path to the position wasn’t straightforward. With her father’s encouragement, she earned an undergraduate degree in agronomy at Auburn University. However, in the process, she discovered another passion: entomology. 

"It [entomology] just hooked me," May says. "I still nerd out over bugs and entomological stuff with my job. I just can't help it. My region is pretty insecticide-based, so that works out well for me." 


After graduating, she enrolled at the University of Florida, where she soon received a master’s degree in entomology. Although this academic background seemed to point toward a career in academia or extension, May had other plans. 

Cross-Country Adventure 

Five years ago, May finally made that move when Syngenta hired her to be a part of its prestigious Development Sales Representative Program, a training ground for the next generation of the sales team. The program plucked her away from the familiar comforts of her childhood home in Sebring, Florida, with its citrus orchards and cypress swamps, and placed her in Washington State, where potatoes, apples and stone fruit reigned supreme. 

After six months of training, May moved into a role as an AgriEdge® Specialist in southern California. Then, she was selected to be one of the company's two post-harvest sales reps, covering the southern half of the U.S. in an arc that swept from southern California to Florida. The position allowed her to dig deep into the world of packing and processing. It gave her a perspective relatively few crop protection representatives get to see and helped her significantly in her current role. 

“It [entomology] just hooked me. I still nerd out over bugs and entomological stuff with my job.”

Christine May

"When we're looking at how to do a trial, it helps to have a background on what happens when the crop leaves the field," May notes. "And I think it helped me learn a lot about maximum residue limits and about exports and how they affect the ag industry." 

Diversity and Beauty 

Currently, May serves as an agronomy service representative based in Camarillo, California, just north of Los Angeles. Her territory extends from seafoam-blown coastal fields of artichokes to the celery and strawberries of Camarillo to the lettuce and cole crops that alternate seasonally between Salinas, California, and Yuma, Arizona. She appreciates the diversity and the natural beauty every day. 

"There's just so much fresh food that grows in my territory," May says. "It's so cool to look at all this food that people consume fresh every day. It's pretty common for me to stop and look around at the mountains when I'm walking lettuce or cotton fields in Arizona, because it's so different from where I grew up. I guess that will eventually wear off, but for now I still really enjoy looking at the scenery while I’m working." 

With her eye for detail—not just for the insects that live in California cropland, but also for the nuances of Syngenta product performance in her plots—and her enthusiasm for her adopted home in the West, May is sure to continue enjoying her time in the field and her opportunity to share what she sees.