Contact Us I Subscribe I Advertisers


Jaxon (22 months) gives his father, Evan Jones, some combine tips at E&A Jones Farms in Wilbur. Jaxon wants to be a farmer just like daddy!
Photo by Ashleigh Jones

North40

PROFILES

Selling wheat seed throughout the western U.S.

Riley Hille, farm wife and wheat seed expert for Syngenta AgriPro

February 2021
By Kevin Gaffney


High achievers like Riley Hille often graduate from high school along with their classmates. They just do it with two years of college work already completed.

Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Hille graduated from Hanford High School in 2010. Not only was she earning college credit through the Running Start program at Columbia Basin College, she worked for Calaway Hay Company during her senior year.

“I was a little bored in the classroom, so most of my class time was online, and when I wasn’t studying or working, I spent time with my horses,” recalled Hille. Hille fell in love with horses at an early age and was fortunate enough to have parents supportive of her equestrian interests.

“I somehow convinced my folks that I should have a horse at age 11,” said Hille. “We had 4H friends, and I was able to arrange for my horse to board at their barn. I think it was expected that I would lose interest in horses and get into sports, cars and boys, but my love of horses continued. I got a pickup truck for my 16th birthday and hooked it up to a horse trailer and never looked back.”

Hille competed in rodeo events for years and served as rodeo queen twice in high school and once in college. That service included a lot of public speaking and provided excellent background training for her future sales career.

Hille took a year off after graduation to decide the direction of her career. She worked for Simplot, performing soil sampling in potato fields. She advanced quickly, so they arranged for her to obtain her commercial applicators license and her fumigation license.

“I really did love the work, but the hours just were not sustainable,” Hille said. “Starting work at 2 a.m. and getting off mid-afternoon was not a workable, long-term situation for me.”

The next stop was Washington State University (WSU), where Hille earned a bachelor’s degree in ag technology and production management. She also met her future husband, Erik Hille, while attending WSU.

“I took my two horses with me to WSU and actually acquired more horses before I graduated in 2014. I still have two horses now, so obviously, I never outgrew my love for them.”

Because the WSU College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) has such an excellent reputation, Syngenta recruited Hille immediately upon her graduation.

“It worked out really well for me,” noted Hille. “I’d guess that half of my colleagues at Syngenta are WSU alums. It is a very well-respected program in our industry.”

Hille first went through Syngenta’s six-month developmental sales training program. It bounces the new employees all around the U.S., working in various crops and farming systems.

“I was based in Florida, Indiana and Ohio. I worked with peanuts, corn, soybeans and citrus crops. It was quite an experience, with the crops and systems totally unlike anything in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up.”

Hille’s first permanent sales position was in Madera, Calif. Her territory was Madera County, with her farthest sales calls less than an hour apart. The crop protection sales position was interesting and challenging with a wide variety of crops, including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, tomatoes and wine grapes.

“It really kept me on my toes, as there is never an off-season in California. When one crop is done, another one is just coming along.”

During this time, Hille and her fiancée, Erik, had kept their relationship intact. He was employed by Nutrien and also worked for his father, Dan Hille, on the Hille’s Ritzville family farm. With marriage plans in the works, Hille had to make a major decision. About the same time, a position with Syngenta AgriPro Seed in Eastern Washington became available. She accepted the position and permanently moved to Ritzville in 2016.

“It’s a little unusual for someone on the crop protection side to move over to seed, but it really was a great move for me,” said Hille. “As much as I loved my work in California, seed is a better fit for me. I feel more connected to the process. Sometimes we joke that wheat is our life in every way. We live and work on our wheat farm, and I sell wheat seed for a living. We live and breathe wheat 24-7.”

Riley and Erik Hille don’t just raise wheat. They have a 3-year old son, Everett, and are ready to welcome a new daughter to the family very soon.

One trend Hille has noticed is more wheat growers being willing to diversify their crop rotations, especially with canola and red wheat varieties.

“This year, we actually saw hard red winter (HRW) prices higher than Dark Northern Spring (DNS),” explained Hille. “I don’t remember that happening before. Improved genetics of HRW varieties has meant higher end-use quality and better yields. Many traditional soft white growers are now including HRW in their planting decisions.

“We are to the point now, with so many varieties, what variety to plant is not an easy decision for the growers anymore. Instead of about 10 good variety choices in a given region 30 years ago, there are now literally dozens of options.

“The growers must weigh the yield potential and the end-use quality in making their choices, because it is so important to maintain the high quality of our wheat. At the same time, they must also consider other traits, including disease resistance, straw height and strength and other factors. Choosing a variety that is less likely to have low falling numbers has become critical in recent years.”

Hille’s territory is huge, encompassing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and western Montana. She has also been experimenting with using soft white wheat as a forage crop.

“It is a challenge, because the crop rotations and the cultural practices vary widely from county to county, not to mention in different states,” said Hille. “Central or southern Idaho is totally different than Eastern Washington, for instance. Getting out to inspect the fields is one of my favorite facets of my work. Problems can happen quickly, so we have to stay on top of what is taking place in the fields. The excellent communication we have between our sales force and our researchers helps to minimize problems for our growers.”

One irony regarding her wheat seed lines is that AgriPro decided years ago to not offer any club wheat due to a limited market share. Club wheat just happens to be the class of choice for many growers in Adams County, including her husband.

“I joke that I must not be a very good salesperson since my husband doesn’t grow AgriPro wheat on our farm. At least not yet.”

To find out more about Syngenta AgriPro seed varieties and dealer locations, go to agriprowheat.com.