Feature Story: A Georgia Girl living in Singapore

SINGAPORE: Tonya B.Hodgkins, age 48, grew up in rural Dodge County, and graduated from Dodge County High School. And since January, she has served as the head of row crop production for the Asia Pacific (APAC) region for Bayer.

The married, step-mother of four and grandmother of five, told The Murphy Gazette, “I have worked for Bayer for 20 years, and have worked in agriculture since 1989.”

So, she is a Georgia girl in Singapore.

As per her career, Tonya said, “I had been doing a similar role in North America, but for completely different crops. When the APAC role came open, I knew it was working with different crops and also had much more complexity because of all the countries we produce in and sell to and their different regulatory requirements.”

She said, “It was like turning up the volume a few notches and getting a cultural diversity angle I was never going to get in the States.”

Tonya added, “But I didn’t choose agriculture at first. I had just finished my freshman year of college and needed a job that was going to help pay for tuition and my car. I worked out in the same gym as an aerial applicator who told me about a summer job scouting peanuts.”

She continued, “The work was tougher than most of the jobs I’d had because it was working outside in the heat. But, I quickly fell in love with the freedom and responsibility and the fact that I was helping farmers make important decisions about their crops and their livelihood.”

“Still, I didn’t think I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture,” Tonya stated. “Then, I got a great scholarship at the University of Georgia for my junior year to pursue a degree in agronomy.”

She said, “Agriculture kept opening doors for me and still does! I can’t imagine being in any other vocation.”

“In my job, I travel a lot,” Tonya said. “I’m generally in another country (mostly India and Thailand) two to three weeks a month. I work with my team to make strategic and tactical plans for our business of corn and rice seed production which their teams then execute. The best part of my job is coaching and mentoring people. I love to help people see and realize their potential.”

“I assume that most people have no idea what a job in seed production really means,” she said. “My teams and I work directly with over 30,000 smallholder farmers in Asia to grow hybrid corn and rice seed that is then sold commercially to other smallholder farmers.”

Tonya added, “We work directly with villages and communities to provide jobs and income to the families living there. The commercial products produced from the hybrid seed we sell are food and feed for a continuously growing population in Asia.”

In talking about coaching and mentoring, Tonya said, “Too many of us never start something for fear of failure. I’d say perhaps the biggest failure is in never trying in the first place.”

“We need to not take ourselves so seriously that we are afraid we’ll fail. Do something you’ve never done before. Take a dance lesson, learn a new language, start that sideline business and travel to someplace new. Stop accepting excuses from yourself.”

She added, “When I was in my 30’s, I saw things clearly as black and white. I won’t go so far as saying I was judgmental, but I had a pretty strict moral code and verged on being legalistic in my faith.”

Tonya said, “A few years ago, I went through a tough separation and eventual divorce from my (first) husband of over twenty years. The experience could have caused me to become jaded, and I won’t say it was easy, nor that it was a linear process, but I’ve emerged from it and am softer and more tolerant. People aren’t perfect. If we were or even could aspire to be, then there’d be no need for a Savior.”

“Most define hope as believing things will be better for themselves and/or their loved ones in the future (or at least as good as things might be now),” she continued. “I suppose I’m not too much different from that, but I tend to put just as much stock in the journey these days.”

“Being a long distance runner, I have learned the term, ‘embrace the suck’ which means that you often have to go through a whole lot of discomfort to become a better runner. It’s taught me to have a different viewpoint on the valleys in life. Yes, there are ‘bad’ days but I try to think of them more as different than bad.”

Tonya stated, “People need hugs and a shoulder to cry/lean on when they are going through tough times. They mostly don’t want advice, even if they ask for it.”

“I’m one of those people who loves quotes, so it is tough to just give one. I like to keep it real and there’s a quote from Amelia Boone that reminds me that I need to work hard for everything – ‘No one owes you anything.’”

Tonya has many pasttimes. “I’m addicted to running. I started 30 years ago, and I enjoy it more now than ever. I also enjoy scuba diving.”

“I’m currently taking a swim class. I mean, I’ve been swimming since I was a child, but I’m not a good swimmer, I’m taking a series of 10 classes in the Total Immersion method intended to make one a more efficient swimmer.”

She said, “I love a good book. I also enjoy being outside in nature, watching birds, gardening or just looking at plants and flowers. Science rocks, and I love learning new things.”

“I started running in 1989 as cardio in preparation for a bodybuilding competition. I did the Macon Labor Day 10k shortly after I started running and managed a third place age group finish.”

She said, “I became hooked, and I have competed in 65 races, 14 of which were half marathons, eight full marathons, and I completed a 50k last December.”

Tonya said, “Running is cathartic for me, but also allows me to be outside, enjoying nature. I’ve raced enough to have quite a few unusual experiences, but one that sticks out in my memory was getting a high five from an Elvis impersonator on stilts during the International Falls Marathon in Niagara Falls last year.”

She paused. “It was surreal. Your brain is already in a hypoxic state in the late miles of a marathon, and I kept wondering if I’d imagined him.”

When asked if she thought there was something everyone should do at least once in their life, Tonya reflected. Her answer was simple. “This is going to vary by person, but do something outside your comfort zone,” she said. “That could mean bungee jumping or zip lining or traveling to Yosemite or India or the Grand Canyon or Egypt … just do something that scares you a little or where you’ll meet people or see a culture you never would’ve come across otherwise.

And that is a #goodnews story, don’t you think so?