From Milking Cows to Research
Editor’s note: This is the latest post in our “You Grow, Girl!” series highlighting female farmers – from the northern reaches of Canada to the heartland of the U.S., and from the western coast of Africa to the rolling hills of France and beyond. The series amplifies the voices of female farmers, who play vital roles in agriculture worldwide. Here, they share their unique perspectives on food, family and farming.
For this blog post, we reached out to Franciele Caixeta, who puts her agricultural knowledge growing up on a dairy farm to work as a research and development commodities coordinator at our Cambará, Brazil, plant where our Yoki brand of popcorn, tea, snack food and side dishes are produced.
Can you describe your agricultural background?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Patos de Minos, Brazil, which is located north of the metropolis, São Paulo. We raised Dutch cows, typically 100 head at a time. We also grew corn and sugar cane to feed the cows.
When I was nine years old, my parents wanted me to get a better education than I could in the country, so during the week, I would attend school in the city 18 kilometers away. Every weekend, I would come back to the farm.
My parents still live on the farm today, supplying their milk to Nestlé. I love going home to visit my parents, and waking up early to help my dad with the chores.
What are some of your favorite memories from growing up on a farm?
Life in the country is wonderful. I have happy memories of talking on the porch during rainy days, thanking God for the water because I knew it would make our crops grow. I loved riding on horseback watching the sunset and walking with my father in the field. Life in the countryside brings me peace and harmony.
I also have wonderful memories of the meals my mother and grandmother would prepare for the farm workers. Every day would start with a delicious breakfast consisting of Brazilian cheese bread and coffee with milk. A typical lunch included rice, beans, steak, salad, and farofa, which is a toasted cassava or corn flour mixture, and the famous Brazilian sweets made of milk, papaya, fig, guava and banana. The lunch meal always ended with scrumptious fresh cheese for dessert.
What drew you to your position at General Mills?
After I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s degree and a PhD in plant engineering with an emphasis on seeds, I was ready to embrace a challenge at a multinational food company. I knew I could put my knowledge of seeds to work improving popcorn used in Yoki products. I was willing to dive in to the familiar, but also took on new and less familiar work with potato and cassava, which are tubers and root vegetables.
At General Mills, we need high quality popcorn for our Yoki products to meet the needs of our consumers. In my role, I conduct several types of research that help today’s farmers. One is to increase productivity per hectare (one hectare equals 2.47 acres) and consequently increase profit. Another line of research is to adjust the recommended amount of fertilizer for each hybrid of seed, which decreases both cost and carbon emissions, resulting in a more sustainable production. I feel very proud to be able to help farmers improve their bottom lines, while producing a high-quality product.
What values did you learn growing up on a farm that you apply to your job at General Mills?
Growing up on a farm, I learned about hard work and dedication, and how passionate rural farmers are about what they do. They dedicate their lives – without a break on holidays or weekends – to deliver the best products to their customers.
I use the values that I learned on the farm to work very hard to serve our farming partners. I give our growers the attention they deserve related to the produce they grow for us at General Mills.
What are some of the biggest challenges farmers face today?
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges for today’s farmers is to keep up with the evolution of technology. Things on the farm used to be so much simpler, when we would hand-milk the cows once daily. Today, we need to focus on the quality of milk and efficiency. Each dairy farm must operate like its own independent company, with product quality controls and worker safety efforts, while taking care to be environmentally conscious.
The effects of greenhouse emissions are increasingly evident, and we do not know what the future will look like if we keep operating this way.
My message to farmers is to please use sustainable methods so that your grandchildren, and their grandchildren, will be able to continue farming.