Agribusiness Student Gains Insight During Internship Abroad

Jake Willis rounds out his CAES education working in Argentina

Jake Willis’ decision to intern abroad came from a desire to round out his College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences education.

The agribusiness major and Certificate in International Agriculture student, now a senior, wanted an agricultural internship in a Spanish-speaking country. After falling in love with Argentina while on a family vacation, Willis decided to reach out to Argentine agricultural company Aceitera General Deheza (AGD).

One email was all it took. Willis stayed in Argentina for two-and-a-half months.

“They were like, ‘Sure, come on down,’” he said. “It happened in three weeks.”

A $4 billion company, AGD is the largest producer of cooking oil in Argentina, according to Willis. The company produces everything from soybean, sunflower and peanut cooking oils; to sunflower, soybean, maize and olive refined oils; to peanut butter, mayonnaise and ketchup; and biodiesel.

Willis worked with the company’s agronomy department, which provided perspective beyond his classroom agribusiness experience.

“I had experience on the business side of things, but the agronomy side, I didn’t know a whole lot about,” he said. “We’d come in the morning, check email, then go out in the fields to the test plots and run tests of different chemicals … to find out what kills weeds best, what’s the fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide. There are no (Cooperative) Extension services there. The (AGD) agronomy department is basically their Extension service.”

After a three-hour nap from 1 p.m. to about 4 p.m. – an Argentine cultural norm – Willis and colleagues would go back to work until 8 p.m. Sometimes they would return to the test plots, sometimes they would stay in the office.

“Being in the office all day really helped my Spanish,” Willis said. “I speak it fluently now.”

From the Spanish to the practical knowledge Willis gleaned from working in test plots, the internship will help him in the future, both in the classroom and in the field.

“I feel like in any industry you work in, you need to know the business up and down. If you know the process behind the agriculture, you can potentially cut costs in the future,” he said. “You can implement it in any way you see fit, given you know the ins and outs of growing the actual crop and the process behind it.”

Willis interned at The J.M. Smucker Company in Ohio this summer, working on brand marketing and with commodities, trade futures and options in an effort to learn more about the process of procuring commodities. After graduation, he sees himself as the leader of an agricultural company or working on the shelling side of peanuts.