UW Major: Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics, CALS
Age: 36 | Westfield, Indiana
Vice President of Research, AgReliant Genetics
As vice president of research at AgReliant Genetics, Tom Koch is helping to change the face of agriculture across the globe.
After graduation, he became a commercial corn breeder at AgReliant's breeding station in Champaign, Ill. After only three years as a corn breeder, Koch's leadership talents and skills in plant genetics earned him the promotion to his current role, where he directs research for the third largest corn seed company in the United States and the eighth largest in the world.
Currently based in Westfield, Ind., Koch manages genetics that are tested yearly in 35 countries covering five continents. His job has taken him around the world, and he has found success by valuing diversity in perspectives and culture, a skill he attributes to his UW experience.
"Through daily, global interactions in the corn industry, I have experienced and interacted with various world cultures, and I find it personally and professionally rewarding," he says. "These have been eye-opening life experiences I could not have fathomed growing up on my father's small farm in southern Ohio."
The technical side of his UW education has also allowed Koch to develop his own corn lines. Within the first two years of his career, he had hybrids in commercial trials. Three years later, his hybrids were being grown in fields across the nation. Currently, he has three new corn lines in the patenting process for commercial use in the United States, Canada and Ukraine.
The magnitude of his achievement hit home when he had to sign a patent form to allow sales in the Ukrainian market: "The whole thing was written in Russian, and the lawyers had to translate for us," he says.
Koch, together with AgReliant, has continued to impact the world by building research facilities and bringing employment opportunities to places such as Peru and Puerto Rico. He has also had a hand in increasing the growing potential of corn in areas where rural farmers struggle to produce adequate harvests.
"Helping to develop a research station in the deserts of Peru, where poverty is rampant, is quite humbling. Knowing the genetics I am developing are being used in China to improve the lives of rural farmers is certainly rewarding," he says. "I would have never imagined that the most Midwestern of all crops, corn, would allow me to have such a worldwide impact so quickly."
In his own words
What do you miss most about campus?
Courtyard parties at Moore Hall, followed by the Terrace and trips down State Street. Nowhere else have I been able to always find someone willing to have a quick social drink, enjoyed such a diverse group of people to meet or been able to sample such a collection of Wisconsin’s finest beverages.
What is your proudest UW achievement?
Receiving my PhD in plant breeding and plant genetics. The degree from Wisconsin has opened so many doors. I graduated with not only my PhD, but also an education on so many different views on the world that I have been able to approach new settings with an open-minded view.
What are you reading now?
My accounting textbook. After a few years in research, I have realized I need to understand the language of business to better represent the interests of my research team.
Who is your hero?
My grandfather. Despite barely an eighth-grade education, he loved life and learning like no one I have ever met. At an early age, he instilled in me the love of science and plant breeding. We would spend hours in the garden, enjoying new and heirloom varieties simply for the surprise of the diversity we found.
What do you do in your free time?
Time with my wife and kids dominates my free time when I can find some. I also run half-marathons, inspired by many fun days running the Crazylegs. And, watching Badger football in as many venues as possible — besides Wisconsin, I have lived in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. “W” was the first letter my daughter learned!
What is your guilty pleasure?
College football — live, if possible. This year I made it to six games. If not live, on the couch is a close second.
What is your favorite quote?
“Dum dormido sterto.” To those not educated in classical languages, it sounds smart. To those who have studied Latin, it simply means, “While I sleep, I snore.”
If you could trade places with any person for a week, who would it be?
One of my children. Who wouldn’t love a week of coloring, cutting and pasting, and being driven around? Not to mention nap time!