Seed World

Meet the 2016 Future Giant

Justin Clark, 2016 Future Giant. Photos by Keith Papke, courtesy BASF

Justin Clark attributes his success to the people he works with, and he’s a leader within the seed treatment market.

Growing up in a rural community on a small farm near Sparta, Tenn., and being involved in 4-H and FFA, Justin Clark remembers many people telling him to always “do what you love.”

“So taking that advice, a career in ag was a no-brainer,” says Clark, 34, who earned a  master’s degree in entomology and plant pathology from the University of Tennessee. He’s now the technical marketing manager at BASF, a global leader in agricultural crop protection. Clark works in the company’s Research Triangle Park office in North Carolina.

“What I love about this job is the diversity of responsibilities that makes each day often completely different from the previous,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to help take products from development to commercial sales. The most rewarding aspect, though, is helping create solutions that answer growers’ problems and allow them to be more efficient.”

He also loves that no two days are alike.

“For instance, last week I was in Florida working with peanut growers and Southern University Extension personnel, and today I’m on the road in the Pacific Northwest meeting with technical service field reps discussing seed treatments within the territory. Next week, I’ll be in the office working with the seed treatment marketing group.”

Clark came to his present position while working in field development for Becker Underwood.  In 2012, it was acquired by BASF, resulting in his relocation to Research Triangle Park.

“Our technical marketing group is the ‘hub of the wheel’ because we work with many groups throughout the Ag Products organization,” he says. “It’s a mixed bag of technical support for our field sales and technical service teams.”

Clark also writes technical bulletins, recommendations, publications, product labels and does a great deal of in-field troubleshooting.

“A big portion of my role is late-stage product development efforts for products that are within a couple of years from launch,” he explains. “I cover the BASF seed treatment portfolio including seed treatment active ingredients, inoculants, biologicals, colorants and polymers. I also have responsibilities for some in-furrow technologies, and I support foliar fungicides on peanuts and cotton.”

“I think we’re at a very critical time in advocating and educating the general public about what we do and why. So many people who enjoy a bounty of food on a daily basis do not fully understand agriculture and how their food gets to their plate.” 

— Justin Clark

A Great Choice

Considering Clark’s age and accomplishments to date, it’s probably no surprise to his peers that he was recently awarded the 2016 Future Giant of the Seed Industry Award at the 133rd annual convention of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA).

This award recognizes an early-career individual who demonstrates the ability to make a significant impact on the seed industry. Nominations are judged by Seed World’s editorial board and based on leadership, industry involvement and success in their area of specialty.

Bill Romp, who works with Clark at BASF on the U.S. Crop Protection team, calls his colleague very deserving of this award.

“I’m very pleased Justin was chosen. We have been working with seed solutions for a number of years and I met him through his work on the technical team at Becker Underwood. Justin is a hard-working person with an eye toward developing solutions to improve yields by working with seed enhancements,” Romp says. “It takes several qualities — which he is able to combine — like listening to growers, seed company representatives, universities, our field team at BASF, as well as an imagination of how to focus this input on an idea or solution to advance an idea forward.”

Gary Fellows, manager, Plant Health and Seed Treatment at BASF, echoes this sentiment.

“I’m really pleased that Justin received this award, as it signifies his impact and influence in the industry, as well as the potential for continued growth and new contributions. He has worked directly for me in the technical marketing group since the acquisition of Becker by BASF and has been the technical seed treatment go-to person for all departments for the past several years,” Fellows says. “Justin has been instrumental in helping develop and provide hands-on training with our new products to both internal and external customers.”

Fellows says that in addition to Clark’s technical background, education and his practical knowledge — which has made him an invaluable resource to the industry — he has an innate ability to transfer this knowledge to a range of audiences, from technical/academic ones to very specialized grower audiences.

“This ability to speak to different audiences and transfer the knowledge is a valuable skill. On the more applied side, Justin has the ability to troubleshoot seed treatment equipment and figure out any problems in application methods and systems. This knowledge and experience to cover both the high view and the practical applied side of the seed treatment industry continues to bring value to the seed industry.”

When asked his own thoughts on receiving the award, Clark called it both very humbling and a huge honor.

“I’m thankful for the nomination and kind words from coworkers,” he says. “There are many highly respected individuals that have previously won this award and I am thrilled to be included in this group.”

Clark also attributes his success to the people he works with on a daily basis and hopes that his winning this award signifies that he is doing a good job within the industry by acting as a leader within the seed treatment market segment.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some very successful teams and organizations, thus far, in my career,” he says. “I’ve always tried to take advice and pointers from my mentors within Becker Underwood/BASF and across the seed industry. I’m truly thankful for the nomination and award.”

Justin Clark (left) attributes his success to the people he works with on a daily basis.
Justin Clark (left) attributes his success to the people he works with on a daily basis.

What’s Next? 

With a master’s degree already under his proverbial tool belt, Clark decided to take his education even further and is currently pursuing his doctorate in plant and soil science from Texas Tech University.

“At this point it’s more of a personal goal for me,” he explains. “I had started my Ph.D at the University of Georgia, but put my studies on hold after receiving an offer for a job in the industry.

“Later, when presented with the opportunity to work with Jason Woodward at Texas Tech University, one of the brightest young plant pathologists in the U.S, I had to jump on it. I’m very fortunate that I can work toward my Ph.D while maintaining my career in the ag industry.”

As for the future of the seed industry over the next few years, Clark says, “I think we’re at a very critical time in advocating and educating the general public about what we do and why. So many people who enjoy a bounty of food on a daily basis do not fully understand agriculture and how their food gets to their plate. I think this effort will be critical — not just in the seed industry — but in the ag industry as a whole.”

As for his ultimate career goals, Clark says his aim is to always have a role helping growers solve on-the-ground problems.

“I love learning and really value being in a role that is challenging, impactful and makes me think both critically and analytically.”

His advice for others interested in an agricultural career is equally straightforward.

“Always stay connected. At the end of the day, the ag industry is still relationship-driven.”