November 30, 2022

Q&A: Kip Tom: Former ambassador visits Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Kip Tom, former ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, visited Purdue University during Ag Week.

He discussed his career with Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

Tom was raised on and is now a managing member of his seventh-generation family-owned farm in Leesburg.

Tom Farms has evolved into a global crop production, sales and service company and industry leader.

Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Q: What is the story behind your family farm?

A: It would take a long time to talk about the whole story, from 1837 when they landed in Indiana. They came across from Switzerland and Germany, and over a two and half to three year time frame made their way to northern Indiana with nine children on board. I don’t know if the wheel fell off or what, but they stopped in Leesburg, Indiana. My family has been there for seven generations. I grew up in a family of five children. Mom and dad raised us on a typical, Midwest, Indiana farm. We had 250 acres. We were dad’s workforce on the farm. But we knew we had to get to scale and grow.

Q: What has farming taught you?

A: One thing I learned is that we’re never done educating ourselves. I challenge each one of you, once you leave this great institution, to continue to educate yourself. Stretch yourself. There’s always something to learn. My father passed at age 93. He said that he learned something every day of his life. I challenge you to do the same.

Q: What other advice would you tell students?

A: Look around the corner. Look what’s coming, look at new technologies. What you’re doing today, you may not be doing 10 years from now. You may have a different way of getting the solutions or answers you need. But we’re going to change rapidly. If you look at all industry segments and their adaption of technology and innovation, agriculture is down at the bottom. That is unacceptable. The task we have of feeding a growing planet — it’s only going to happen if we bring in every science we can leverage. I challenge you to dream, as students and as you leave this university.

Q: How did your family farm grow from one county to having a farm in Argentina?

A: I did consulting business in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, setting up farming systems. Then we recognized that some of the richest soils in the world are in Argentina, so we started doing business there.

Q: How can better use of data make agriculture more productive?

A: Farming is manufacturing. You have a defined set of resources that you have to manage in a structured manner to have predictable outcomes. There’s a couple elements we can’t control, often the weather. But if you can manage those others, you can really tighten your ability to drive that outcome. We know that investing in data science, whether it’s information from our machines or market data, can help us understand what risks we can take and where to invest. You have to have data to make decisions.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor