If you're looking for our Region Agronomy Manager on a hot August evening, you'd best check the barley fields. Nicole Zahradka has never been too far from a farm — and that's just how she likes it.
She grew up on her family farm in North Dakota and learned to drive a tractor as soon as she was tall enough to push in the clutch.
“Agriculture has been a part of my family for over 100 years and I'm happy to be part of that and pass it on to my children,” she says. “Smelling fresh-turned soil in the spring, watching the crop grow all summer, and having a successful harvest is a great, fulfilling experience every year.”
After earning degrees in Crop and Weed Science as well as Plant Protection, Nicole was a sales agronomist before joining Anheuser-Busch.
Now, as the Midwest Region Agronomy Manager, Nicole and her team spend a lot of time advising local barley farmers.
“Farming is a high-stress, high-emotion environment,” she says. “We have to adapt quickly to each farmer. Every operation and growing year is unique.”
The team relies on tools like SmartBarley to help barley growers benchmark and improve their production and quality.
“It's how we ensure that we're using only the best barley from the best growers, to produce the best beers in the world,” says Nicole.
The highlight of the year, for the farmers and Nicole's team alike, is Grower's Day, where A-B brings together everyone involved in making our beers — from “seed to sip.”
This unique experience draws growers that come from more than 300 miles (482 km) away. The interactive event sees barley researchers mingling with distributors, brewers chatting with community leaders, procurement experts hanging out with soil scientists.
“We're all there for the same reason,” Nicole says, “to show our growers and the community how important it is to our company to sustainably source from local, quality farmers.”
The 2017 event kicked off with a parade through downtown Fargo, led by the infamous Budweiser Clydesdales. The day included educational research trials for the growers to help them get visual demonstrations on best practices, new technology, and new barley varieties coming down the pipeline. But it's the awards ceremony that Nicole says is the most meaningful part of Grower's Day.
“It's really special to see the farmers come on stage and be acknowledged,” she says. “They are humble people and you can tell by the smiles that they're proud to be honored, when in fact, the honor is really all ours.”