While working full time as a field representative for McCain Foods in Othello, Wash, Athena Gates earned a Master of Science degree online in Plant Health Management. Athena says, “My research focused on the use of whole seed in potato planting. This trial looked at what would result in the highest return for the grower; planting whole seed or the commercially used cut seed. There are certain benefits that whole seed could potentially offer that would help achieve the contract incentives –for example, fewer stems and therefore fewer tubers could lead to a more ideal size profile. This project was of interest for my company to implement on a commercial level, so it was very fitting that I worked on this.”
Athena adds, “My job involves being the liaison between the growers we contract with and the processing facility. I primarily enjoy being out in the fields, storages, and interacting with the local growers. I have been able to gain processing and production knowledge over my five years in this role. My future goals include gaining experience with a variety of crops and becoming knowledgeable enough to make an impact in the industry over the span of my career.”
Athena grew up on a dairy farm in Scappoose, Oregon, and that’s where her interest in agriculture started. After completing her undergraduate degree at Oregon State University, she says she was “lucky enough to randomly land in horticulture and with McCain Foods.” McCain offered financial assistance to Athena, enabling her to earn her online Master’s degree. “I am very thankful that this degree was offered online so that I was able to get the best of both worlds:” work-relevant experience and a Master’s degree.
One of the best things to come of her education and work has been meeting her husband in a potato field. “We have a shared passion for agriculture,” she says. Their family includes two dogs with whom they spend a lot of time outdoors.