Focus on Alumni
A New World
FVTC alumnus Paul Sturgis is helping bring farming into the 21st century.
For the last 10 years, Paul Sturgis has been at the forefront of dramatic changes in the farming industry. The Fox Valley Technical College graduate’s company, Croptech Agronomics, helps farmers use detailed planning and high-tech tools to maximize their yields and boost sustainability. It’s a big and often busy job—Sturgis is the company’s sole employee—but one that he relishes.
We caught up with him recently to learn about his industry and how his time at FVTC prepared him for running a business in the new world of agriculture.
How would you describe your job?
I’m an independent crop consultant, but that job has changed in the last decade. When I started the company, it meant working with farmers to develop crop plans, make seed selections, create pest-management plans, and put together fertilizer plans based on soil test results. That changed for me at least when nutrient management planning took off. Basically, nutrient management planning looks at all of a farm’s nutrient resources and allocates them according to crop need, soil types, pest levels, and more. It also involves making sure that what you do doesn’t adversely affect water resources. I also employ GPS receivers to collect data and monitor yield.
Farmers have always been good stewards of the land, and they’ve been doing nutrient management planning for years—just not in the more formal capacity that we’re using now.
What types of farms do you work with?
When I started the company, I wanted to deal with fewer, but larger clients. It just so happens there are no large dairy farms in my area. I need to travel approximately 50 miles one way to most of my clients. Of course, the concept of “large” has changed. It used to be that 200- to 300-cow farms were considered big; now it’s more like 1,000 cows and larger.
How did you get into this business?
I grew up on a small farm in Larsen, Wisconsin. I originally thought I’d study biology, and went to a four-year university for a year, but wasn’t happy there. Then I heard about FVTC and spoke to an instructor, Dave Gerlach, who told me about the college’s Agri-Business Service and Supply program (now Agri-Business & Science Technology). I graduated in 1988. I then worked at an area co-op and earned a bachelor’s in Business Administration from Lakeland College.
From there, I worked as a seed company district sales manager for five years before starting my business.
What was it like to start the company?
I was married with two young kids, so it was scary. I was starting from scratch, but I had contacts and potential clients from the seed business. I got a call from a farmer who was referred to me by a colleague. He became my first client. Things took off from there.
How did FVTC prepare you?
It gave me exposure to agronomy, animal nutrition, and agricultural equipment, along with a solid foundation of technical skills. I also got involved with extra-curricular activities. I was shy in high school, but at FVTC I got involved with student government and the national Postsecondary Agricultural Student (PAS) organization. I served as student government president, and was later elected as PAS’ national president. Those experiences gave me self-confidence, organizational skills, and people skills.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your business?
It’s rewarding to do something I love. I also work with progressive clients who are willing to try new things. The flexibility is nice too. Things get really busy for me in the spring and fall, but I do have the ability to leave work a little early to attend my son’s baseball game or my daughter’s basketball game.