Rachael Tucker was uncertain as she approached graduation. She was proud, of course, with her coursework in communications near complete. Sociable and empathetic, Rachael appreciated that her bachelor's degree had developed her personal strengths into professional assets. But Rachael was looking ahead, reflecting on what she should do with the first stage of her career. Advertising or media didn’t appeal; Rachael wanted the management of projects to exist alongside more hands-on, boots-on-the-ground efforts.
She kept thinking, for some reason, of her uncle: a cattleman. She observed what was around her, at Arkansas State University: a textbook rural expanse, with long fields of corn, soy, and wheat next to single-lane backcountry roads. Her classmates, too, hailed from farming backgrounds. (Rachael’s parents were educators.) Although Rachael had always enjoyed healthy and nutritious food, she had never probed much into food’s place within society at-large. On the verge of entering the workforce, Rachael was thinking about everything except communications.
The connection happened slowly, but all at once – like a bud blooming into a flower. Mere days after she was handed a diploma, Rachael sat down with her parents, in their home in Cabot,Arkansas, to tell them she wanted to go back to school. They were pleased. A master’s degree is a great next step in your career, was the gist. Rachael shook her head.
“I told them I wanted to go back to Arkansas State, for another undergraduate degree,” she tells me today, over the phone. She is in Clarkesdale, Mississippi, standing outside a seed treatment facility. The hum of an active treatment bin, spinning cotton, is still audible somewhere in the background of the line. “And I told them I wanted it to be in agriculture.”
Rachael was hired as Indigo Research Partners’ first hub manager in March of 2018. At the time, the idea of the world’s largest agricultural lab was nascent. A business plan had been developed in Charlestown and a commercial strategy took root in Memphis. A little over a year later, with Rachael now the Senior Hub Associate for the Midsouth, IRP is dozens of employees and 120 growers strong. Rachael’s territory spans from Texas and Oklahoma to Alabama, almost 400,000 square miles.
The title’s a catchall. “I own the operations over five states,” Rachael says. From seed orders to the logistics that bring them to a partner’s farm, third-party technology scoping to their installation on any test plot, Rachael looks after the mavericks IRP attracts. These are the kind of farmers that want to get their profitability down to a science, that look to microbiology, satellite imagery, and autonomous equipment as the way of the future. Rachael thinks of any grower within the industry, however, regardless of their preference or approach, in the same light. She says, “Farmers are unsung heroes. They feed people they will never meet, without getting the thanks they deserve. They keep their deals with a handshake and don’t give advice they wouldn’t themselves follow.”
Planting is on Rachael’s mind at this point of the season. A wet spring has presented its challenges, and seeders are running slowly over acres. Rachael spends a lot of the day either on the phone, at a grower’s shop, or out riding in the passenger seat of the tractor. There are plenty of questions, the how’s and why’s around trial and treatment organization and analysis. Always two steps ahead, like chess players, the farmers always asking Rachael what’s coming next.
Rachael is certain nowadays. “I work for a company whose mission I believe in,” she says. “Our potential, believe it or not, is largely untapped. What could be more exciting than that?”
Eating dinner with her family a couple of weeks ago, Rachael’s parents told her that they thought she was losing her mind with the idea to go back to school, right after she had finished. Now, instead, they find themselves eating crow. There’s payoff today, in Rachael’s work with an ambitious start-up, to back up the rationale that sent her back to school three years ago. "Food will always be an important part of our lives," Rachael says. "I realized that I needed the industry that produces it to be an important part of my life.”