David Black is senior vice president and chief information officer for CHS. In his role, Black leads the CHS global information technology organization and is responsible for strategy, implementation, delivery and operation of information technology for CHS businesses around the world.
Prior to joining CHS in 2014, Black served as vice president, information technology, at Monsanto Company where he was responsible for all aspects of information technology for its global commercial businesses. During his 20 years with Monsanto, he held positions including vice president, corporate strategy, and president, Monsanto Agro-Services, LLC, a role in which he was responsible for new business development and the operation of that company’s geographic information systems and remote sensing subsidiary, EarthMap Solutionssm. He also held a broad range of global IT and enterprise resource roles including responsibility for North America and Latin America North IT, leadership assignments in Asia Pacific and Canada, along with global enterprise resource planning for core business transactions including finance, manufacturing and human resources, and the consolidation and reporting of data from these business processes.
Black is a member of the CHS Extended Leadership Team and CHS Ag and Enterprise Strategy Leadership Team. He is currently vice chairman of Ag Gateway, a non-profit consortium of more than 220 businesses serving the agriculture industry which strives to promote, enable and expand e-business in agriculture. He is past chairman of RAPID, an agriculture industry non-profit and past president of the Ag CIO Roundtable.
Black holds a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from Tarkio College, Tarkio, Mo.
CHS Inc. (www.chsinc.com) is a leading global agribusiness owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives across the United States. Diversified in energy, grains and foods, CHS is committed to helping its farmer- and member -owners and other stakeholders grow their businesses through its domestic and global operations. CHS, a Fortune 100 company, supplies energy, crop nutrients, grain marketing services, animal feed, food and food ingredients, along with business solutions including insurance, financial and risk management services. The company operates petroleum refineries/pipelines and manufactures, markets and distributes Cenex® brand refined fuels, lubricants, propane and renewable energy products.
For three generations, STEM has been connected to agriculture. It started with mechanization and moved into GMO technology, but Black now sees precision agronomy as the biggest area of opportunity in advancing STEM careers. This is the result of a growing need for sensors and systems that have intelligence to communicate machine to machine. For example, a soil sensor that can communicate with a center pivot and knows when to turn off based on the amount of moisture it has received—behind that machine is a vast network of people who need the knowledge and skill set to design those systems.
Black says the industry will have an increased need for scientists who can explore and examine data from multiple sources and apply it, hardware engineers with the ability to design equipment and ensure it works properly, while also being able to develop the algorithms and analytics that will ultimately drive better recommendations for farmers. This need is creating a huge opportunity for STEM careers in nearly every segment of agriculture.
When it comes to addressing that need, Black believes that CHS plays a key role in helping its farmers and owners achieve what they cannot achieve on their own. By providing some of those resources, Black says CHS can be the conduit towards a precision agriculture strategy. Additionally, CHS can be at the table when farmers are making decisions about precision agriculture and bring its strengths of the cooperative structure, focus on production, and well-educated people in STEM to continue the relationship and build trust.
As CIO, Black also plays a role in addressing that need, by working to drive CHS business in precision agriculture. That work includes anticipating what the next generation capabilities and needs are and building a pipeline of talented people who are career-minded in science and technology.
For CHS and the entire STEM field, Black believes that it is important to create new roles. For instance, bringing in data scientists who can work with big data from multiple sources and apply it in ways that help businesses and help provide better product placements and influence better decision making.
Black also believes big data will continue to play a role in STEM and precision agronomy, and integrating it will allow for the ability to be more predictive, less reactive and more agile when making decisions.
To advance STEM education professionally and personally, Black looks to the future and works towards translating business into jobs and hiring opportunities. He believes it’s important to leverage university relationships and explore opportunities where young people can be brought in as interns, especially to work on big data. Black says STEM education also needs to be aligned with a value proposition. The tools need to solve a problem or provide a benefit that will ultimately help farmers improve their on-farm economics, because there is no value in having a tool just to have it.
In the next 5-10 years, Black predicts that CHS will see a shift in where it goes to recruit staff. Rather than relying on agriculture schools to find students with solid agriculture backgrounds as they have done traditionally, Black says it will be easier to teach agriculture to people in the future, allowing them to draw talent from new sources.
Black also believes academia will need to play a stronger role in creating the skills that are needed. He sees this as an opportunity for them to not only equip students, but also provide industry professionals with additional skills needed to round out their education and take on new roles.
As CHS continues to hire people with the skills needed in STEM, Black says the workforce is going to become increasingly diverse, which will shift the way CHS thinks about and influences its workplace culture.
In addition, CHS supports STEM education through its commitment to developing the next generation of agriculture leaders. They support a wide range of colleges and universities through grants and sponsorships to help provide a vibrant, diverse, well-educated workforce for agriculture.
CHS and the CHS Foundation recognized the need for STEM education, and expanded its high school scholarship program for the 2015-2016 school year to include students studying STEM fields with an interest in agriculture in hopes that they will take the STEM skills they learn to help fuel agriculture.
CHS is also a lead sponsor of the National Teach Ag Campaign, which will strengthen agricultural education resources. CHS sponsors National Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) and several state AITC associations to encourage agriculture literacy through STEM applications in K-12 classrooms across the country.