UD students travel to California to learn about technology within produce industry

Four UD students attended the 2015 Produce Marketing Association Foundation Tech Knowledge ConferenceThe University of Delaware Career Services Center and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) collaborated with the Produce Marketing Association Foundation to offer an interdisciplinary group of UD students an all-expenses-paid trip to explore career opportunities in the produce industry at the PMA Tech Knowledge conference in Monterey, California.

There, the students learned about new technology and innovations in the industry.

The students who attended PMA Tech Knowledge were Danielle DaGrosa and Taylor Jaffe, who recently graduated from CANR with bachelor’s degrees in food science; Grant Wing, a senior in the College of Engineering; and Julia Winkeler, a senior plant science major in CANR. The four students were selected from a competitive pool of 24 applicants.

Joyce Henderson, Career Services Center assistant director for employer partnerships, said the PMA has been an employer partner with the center for three years. The Tech Knowledge conference is the third career conference that has been offered to UD students.

“The all-expenses-paid conferences are attractive to students because they are an awesome way for students to learn about the industry and to expand their networks. To be eligible to participate in the PMA conferences, students must complete an application and go through an interview process,” Henderson said.

The students were accompanied on the trip by Kali Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences in CANR.

“The whole point of the trip was to inform students about the produce industry,” Kniel said. “I think people are interested in learning about food products that are healthy and that we all consume. Also, there’s so much technology in the business, which is a constantly changing industry.”

On the trip, students met with industry leaders to learn about the potential for incorporating higher level technologies into production of fruits and vegetables, such as sensory applications to enhance the aroma and the consumer experience.

Other new technologies in the industry include the use of drones for monitoring fields, nanotechnology for use in packaging and growing, 3-D printing for use in manufacturing, harvesting and growing, the use of big data, and entrepreneurship.

Networking opportunities were among the most beneficial aspects of the trip, as the students were paired with career ambassadors who helped explain the responsibilities associated with their various jobs and who introduced the students to colleagues.

DaGrosa was paired with a career ambassador who worked in food safety for Chipotle.

“I got to talk to him about all the recent changes they’ve been making in their company policies, and I got to ask him all about what he does. It was really cool to see what kinds of things that company is doing from a food safety standpoint,” said DaGrosa.

The students were also able to meet representatives from companies such as DuPont, Monsanto and Taylor Farms, among others.

“During pretty much every meal we ate, we were networking, so I got to meet a lot of really great people and pick their brains for any advice they might have for me as I go forward into my career,” said DaGrosa. “Also, I made some contacts that I know I can reach out to if I would like to try and find work in that industry.”

Kniel said opportunities to meet professionals in the industry are great for the students as “people in the produce industry are like no others. They are the nicest people. They are so passionate about what they do, and even though some of them may be millionaires, they are very down-to-earth and they want to talk to you. They’re very interested in the future and they recognize that these students are their future.”

A highlight of the trip was when the students got to visit the Salinas Valley headquarters for Tanimura and Antle, an industry leader that farms over 30,000 acres and ships a full line of fresh produce throughout North America, Europe and Asia. During the session, the company showcased some of its new technologies.

DaGrosa said that was her favorite part of the trip because the students “really got to see what a big California farm looks like. I had never seen anything like that before. I’m from New Jersey and I’m used to cornfields, so it was really interesting to see that. It was beautiful.”

About PMA

The Produce Marketing Association is a trade organization representing companies from every segment of the global fresh produce and floral supply chain. PMA helps members grow by providing connections that expand business opportunities and increase sales and consumption.

PMA is the largest association for produce worldwide, representing the interests of nearly 3,000 companies.

UD was one of three universities chosen to participate in the PMA-New England Produce Council conference being held in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in September.

The PMA Foundation has as its mission to attract, develop and retain talent for the global produce and floral industry.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.