Careers Stories Interview: How the Young Animal Nutrition Sector is Capturing the Minds of STEM Professionals

Boosting the number of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) roles is an issue that all industries are facing. From those leaving school to business leaders, it is vital we redress the gender balance in these fields at all levels.

We at WFA have interviewed a number of inspirational women working in technical positions within the food and ag sector, to understand their areas of research and their career stories. To get a perspective on the growing and essential young animal nutrition field, we spoke to Elke van Gelderen, Global Category Lead for Young Animal Nutrition in Swine at Cargill Animal Nutrition. We wanted to understand more about her background, why she decided to work in this area, what we could do to encourage more gender diversity and what really excites her about her role and sector.

[WFA] Hi Elke, thank you for speaking with us. Can you firstly tell us about your job at Cargill and what it involves on a day-to-day basis?

[Elke van Gelderen] I’m the Global Category Lead for Neopigg, Cargill’s brand for Young Animal Nutrition (YAN) for swine. It is my job to lead the efforts around the success of our YAN swine solutions and provide new ideas to drive growth. I am also highly involved in developing and executing YAN-related strategies on thought leadership, product quality, processed ingredients, and piglet milk replacers. Additionally, I need to always stay focused on meeting our customers’ needs and influence the development of future solutions by doing so.

[WFA] Tell us more about how you got to where you are today. What was your career path and how did you end up in your current field of research?

[Elke van Gelderen] It all started with an internship while I was studying Animal Sciences at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. I wanted to get insights into the business and international aspects of the agricultural sector. I interned for Cargill on a 4-month assignment in Vietnam. After graduation, I officially joined the team and was responsible for product development and implementing our nutritional solutions and services. Despite my scientific background, Cargill provided me with an opportunity to move to a marketing and category management-related role. Having been in my current role for more than 3 years, I am still really enjoying it and benefitting a lot from my technical background.

[WFA] What do you believe we could do to encourage more gender diversity in technical roles across our sector?

[Elke van Gelderen] One of the best things I see happening already in our sector is acknowledging the gender imbalance and taking actions to close the gap. A key driver to encourage more gender diversity is a mindset shift in our sector. Each one of us must acknowledge that we all have different skills and having diverse and inclusive teams will enrich our organizations. This mindset shift takes time. But the sector can help immediately by emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusion and recognising the talents of those with unique backgrounds and skills.

[WFA] What is Cargill doing to support more diversity across its business areas?

[Elke van Gelderen] In January 2021, Cargill assessed where it faced challenges and introduced a new strategy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) focused on increasing leadership representation for women globally and underrepresented groups in each region, and overall representation of Black Americans and Afro-Brazilians.

Within Cargill, we all have a responsibility in our day-to-day jobs to learn more about DEI and carry that through in actions. Working for a company that focuses on its people is something that I, as an employee, really appreciate. I hope others in our sector do the same to develop a more diverse and inclusive workforce globally in food and ag.

[WFA] What is it about young animal nutrition research that really excites you? 

[Elke van Gelderen]

In livestock farming, ensuring animals are getting optimum nutrients throughout different stages of their lives is vital. Young animals require tailored nutrition solutions as they grow and develop through their most vulnerable stage. I’m excited to see we are expanding our capabilities to understand young animals better, for example in all the microbiome work going on. Even though what is observed and measured in barns matters most, we want to better understand why things are happening and how we can improve animal health and performance.

Those outside of the livestock industry might be surprised about how much investment and research goes into the field. As an example, I’m excited to see all the efforts in alternative ingredients and evolving ‘traditional’ ingredients to be more suitable and sustainable for young animals.

In our attempts to feed a growing world, we need to overcome challenges that increased sow productivity can bring, like lower average birth weights and higher pre-weaning mortality. Within young animal nutrition research, I see the sector working to find the balance between animal performance and health, animal welfare and profitability of a customers’ business – while adhering to ever-changing legislation.

[WFA] Can you share with us what Cargill is doing to keep at the forefront of research in this field?

[Elke van Gelderen] For young animal nutrition specifically, Cargill’s animal nutrition and health business has placed a high priority on offering its customers YAN solutions that drive animal performance in later life stages. There is a strong focus on quality and consistency throughout the whole value chain. We also have a strong commitment to innovation and R&D to meet specific customer needs. Similarly, our liquid hatchery feed research and trials for shrimp continues to drive increased customer profitability through higher survival, better water quality, and a simplified production process for shrimp farmers.

Additionally, Cargill is hiring talent and dedicating resources to these areas while looking for partners to synergize expertise and know-how. We are also using expertise in food ingredients such as dairy products that we can apply in animal nutritional solutions as well. It is a cutting-edge and exciting area to work in.

For more information about Cargill’s young animal nutrition work visit www.cargill.com