Published March 28, 2018

Whiteman Lecture

Plummer ’73 to discuss disruptive forces facing food/ag industry
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Dennis Plummer, who had a front row seat to the transformation of Monsanto during his 28-year career with the company, will deliver Monmouth College’s annual Wendell Whiteman Memorial Lecture on April 10.

Free and open to the public, Plummer’s lecture will be presented at 11 a.m. April 10 in the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.

The title of Plummer’s lecture is “The Changing Food/Agriculture Landscape: Established Corporations Facing Technological Innovation by Startups and Venture Capitalists.”

Plummer worked for Monsanto from 1980-2007, helping it grow from a Midwestern ag company into an international agribusiness giant. For part of that time, he was president of American Seeds Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto. His other positions at Monsanto included chief of staff to the CEO, managing director of U.S. crop protection, and director of biotechnology licensing for South America.

As Plummer points out, agricultural production, food processing practices and consumer grocery products industries have evolved considerably since the 1990s.

“Innovation, economies of scale and marketing muscle increased output and variety, which resulted in significant consolidation,” he said. “Larger companies with successful research-and-development programs created new products and/or achieved more efficient operations to allow increased sales/margins, facilitating the consolidation of many sectors.”

Plummer points to his own career at Monsanto as an example of the tremendous change that has taken place in the ag/food sector.

“I joined Monsanto when it was a small niche chemical company, and I participated in its growth from $300 million annual revenue in 1980 to $14 billion today,” he said. “But growth eventually flattened, and Monsanto is scheduled to be acquired by Bayer sometime in 2018. Dow and DuPont merged in 2017. ChemChina acquired Syngenta in 2017.”

Plummer said that another interesting development in the ag/food sector is the arrival of numerous new technologies by startups – biological, chemical, data, robotics, grocery, mechanization, bioenergy – that are attracting significant venture capital.

“These new arrivals are predicted by many to be transformative and disruptive to this industry,” he said. “We will review the array of technologies coming at the industry and the impact on the current players. The nature of work in coming years and the skill sets these new and old employers require will be examined.”

Today, Plummer is co-founder and executive vice president of Arvegenix LLC, which is developing the oilseed field pennycress, a crop that grows after corn in the fall and produces “oils with desirable properties.”

He is also a consultant for ag tech start-ups and was an adjunct faculty member at the St. Louis University School of Business, where he earned his MBA.

Plummer joined the Monmouth College Board of Trustees in 2011.

As a student at Monmouth, Plummer majored in business and economics and was a member of the baseball and football teams and Theta Chi fraternity. He starred on the College’s undefeated football team of 1972 and received the program’s prestigious McClintock Award. In 1999, Plummer was inducted into the M Club Hall of Fame.

“My intellectual curiosity was developed during my time at Monmouth College,” he said. “The College’s science and business focus is the way to add value to one’s education in the future. Monmouth is going in the right direction with that focus – I am sure of it.”

The Whiteman Lecture Series annually brings prominent leaders of American business and industry to Monmouth. It is named in memory of Wendell Whiteman, an alumnus of the College and long-time executive of Security Savings Bank in Monmouth.
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