$500 million to $2 billion in revenue. She
realized that she wanted to use her skills
to help farmers boost their productivity
IN THE FIELDS
Su started her MBA at Stanford Graduate
School of Business in 2012 and spent her
summer breaks working on farms. At an
internship on a 60-cow dairy farm in
Hokkaido, Japan, she milked cows, shoveled
manure, baled hay, and helped birth calves.
In her spare moments, she conducted a study
measuring how fast the farmhands could
milk and drew a diagram of where to place
the milking tools to speed up those times.
“I couldn’t help myself,” she says of her
passion for improving on-farm processes.
Her in-the-field learning did not
end there. She spent a summer working
at organics giant Earthbound Farm in
California’s Salinas Valley, known as the
“Salad Bowl of the World” for its prolific
lettuce production. At Mountain Hazelnuts
in Bhutan, she learned the challenges
of subsistence farming and built a data
tracking system for 150 field agents in
the Himalayas to monitor tree health
using mobile phones. And at the New
Zealand Merino Co., she spent a summer
interviewing merino wool shepherds about
their grazing practices and measuring
pasture quality data with field scientists.
“I kept noticing as I worked on more and
more farms that these farmers keep all their
records on paper,” Su says. “I would go into
barns and see a charts on the walls. They
run their whole lives on paper.” The record-keeping was cumbersome and often ignored,
she says, and the data wasn’t digitized in
a way that could help the farmers derive the
full value of their records.
“Here is something I can do,” she
recalls thinking. “I can’t bale hay as well as
a farmer. I can’t pull a calf as well. I can’t
doctor an animal as well. But I do know
metrics. I do know how to make the core
value drivers of their operation run better.”
She talked to 3,000 farmers and ranchers
in person and designed her own additional
MS degree on sustainable grazing systems
in the Stanford School of Earth, Energy &
Environmental Sciences to teach herself
more about grassland management. During
this time, she put into practice Steve Blank’s
well-known lean startup method — find a
problem, develop a minimally viable solution,
and immediately get customer feedback — to
mock up some wireframes on the image of
a phone. She printed out flyers and went to
Department of Agriculture, up from
54 pounds the year before.
But beef producers face criticism for
their product’s impact on the environment
— from land degradation to greenhouse gas
emissions caused by manure storage, feed
production, and even the way cattle digest
food. Through her startup, PastureMap,
entrepreneur Christine Su hopes to
improve those practices while helping
ranchers increase their bottom line.
PastureMap’s software helps ranchers
manage their land and graze their herds in
a sustainable way. “If you let your cattle run
all over the place and continuously graze,
they’ll overgraze,” Su says. But strategic
grazing can prevent soil erosion, improve
soil nutrients, and even reverse greenhouse
emissions by sinking carbon into the
soil, she says. This is called regenerative
agriculture. “It raises food in a way
that heals the land rather than further
extracting from and eroding it,” she says.
Using PastureMap on their phones,
ranchers manage grazing history and
planning, keep track of herd information
like weight and health issues, document
grass and soil conditions, and keep their
whole ranching team informed. The
information is stored in one place and
is easy to analyze, both for short-term
decisions, like where to graze the herd
that day, and for long-term decisions, like
planning out future pastures or placing
water tanks and fencing.
Su started PastureMap in 2014, and
cofounder George Lee joined in 2016.
Today, it employs 11 people and is used
by over 9,000 farmers and ranchers
in 40 countries. Financial investors and
social impact funders have pumped
$3.2 million into the company.
THE START-UP PATH
Su’s interest in the food chain evolved from
her own food allergies, which developed
when she was an undergraduate at Stanford
University. She sought out farmers markets
to find produce and dairy products that
wouldn’t give her hives. There, she began
meeting local farmers, and her interest in
food production was piqued.
After she graduated, Su worked at
consulting firm McKinsey & Co., where
she worked with large food brands.
Later, she worked at private equity giant
KKR & Co. as an operations executive.
She built supply-chain improvement
processes and operations software in
portfolio companies that were earning
PastureMap helps ranchers
manage their land and
raise climate-friendly beef.