Customer Service with Precision
When a customer’s tractor stalled, Hunter Williams, a summer intern at Coastal AgroBusiness, drove to the row crop farm and replaced a steering system component.
“They were almost done planting soybeans before they had problems with this tractor,” Williams says. “After I fixed it, they could finish their work.”
Raised on his family’s farm in Ayden, North Carolina, Williams assisted his father in raising chickens. Guided by high school ag teachers, FFA alumni and family members who had attended North Carolina State University, Williams believed it was the ideal school to gain the experience he needed for his future in farming.
“They made me feel good about the quality of education I would receive here,” he says.
Now he’s pursuing an associate’s degree in agribusiness management through the Agricultural Institute (AGI), a two-year program at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). He’s also one of several students gaining technical and customer service skills as an intern at Coastal AgroBusiness, a leading agricultural solutions provider based in Greenville, North Carolina.
Since 1953, Coastal has served southeastern farmers and growers with products and services to optimize crop production and promote sustainable agriculture.
The company has developed an enduring relationship with CALS and AGI, recruiting dozens of interns over the years, several of whom have gone on to work for the company full time after graduation.
Dustin Boykin, a precision technologies specialist at Coastal, graduated from NC State in 2015 with a bachelor’s in agricultural and environmental technology.
“I interned two summers with Coastal and worked out of one of our locations treating seed and helping with deliveries,” Boykin says. Networking and becoming acquainted with the company helped him form relationships with the other employees.
However, a precision agriculture class at NC State ignited his interest and clarified his future ambitions.
Precision agriculture employs advanced sensors, technology and data analysis to enhance crop yields, optimize resource usage, reduce labor and improve the quality of crops. It’s a globally embraced approach for effective fertilizer and irrigation management, boosting production through data-driven decisions.
Exposed to these new technologies, CALS students have introduced fresh perspectives to their internships. Boykin’s precision agriculture courses equipped him to contribute to Coastal’s AgroVision department, which assists customers in data management and equipment support, ushering in a new era of agribusiness.
NC State was forward-thinking in embracing precision agriculture and leveraging industry insights to educate students about emerging trends. The program at NC State provides hands-on experience, allowing students to explore various aspects of this rapidly evolving field. The university played a pivotal role in fostering growth in the industry, particularly for companies like Coastal that were new to this new approach.
Boykin’s interest in a solutions advisor position aligned with Coastal’s entry into precision technologies. After he graduated, Boykin returned to Coastal and moved into his current role.
Williams accompanies Boykin on service calls and has gained hands-on experience working with the technicians, repairing equipment, delivering parts, performing auto-steer installations and building custom planters.
“I learned how to repair multiple systems by myself, whether replacing parts or diagnosing problems,” he says.
Josh Allen, director of operations at Coastal and former intern and AGI alum, spent his early years helping his father grow corn, soybeans and wheat on the family farm in Plymouth, North Carolina.
“Agriculture wasn’t as bright and shiny as it is now,” Allen says. “The ag economy wasn’t as good as it is now, so there weren’t many students going into the field.”
“The professors were deeply committed to student success,” he says. Faculty such as longtime professor Bob Patterson and others demonstrated their dedication to students. “This commitment was evident in their conversations and the relationships they built with us. We appreciated their investment in our success.”
During the summer of 1995, he landed an internship at Coastal and began scouting cotton. Working in agronomy was rewarding as he helped farmers and customers understand their crops and make decisions to help them flourish.
“I fell in love with it. It almost felt like I was farming — not just with my dad but with our customers.” After graduating, Allen began working full-time at Coastal in sales and then moved into management.
The university provides students with the opportunity to create professional networks. Nobody does it better than NC State.
He’s also instrumental in recruiting student interns from CALS.
“We work with several universities, but NC State is the most organized in connecting students with Coastal,” Allen says. “The university provides students with the opportunity to create professional networks. Nobody does it better than NC State.”
Williams’ internship at Coastal has been essential to his skill development. Working under the guidance of Boykin and Allen, he can apply what he’s learned.
“Coastal has given me good opportunities to view different technologies and work with them,” Williams says. “These technologies are integral to my day-to-day activities.”
Additionally, Williams’ summer internship has increased his understanding of customer service.
“My colleagues go to great lengths for customers, work long hours, drive long distances and do whatever it takes because they understand that customer satisfaction is essential for the company’s success. Without happy and active customers, the company can’t operate effectively.
“When I start working in agribusiness, I’ll be devoted to my customers — how I can care for them and do what’s best for them.”