Successful Farming - - Q A THE SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEW - By David Kurns, Ed­i­to­rial Con­tent Di­rec­tor

Erin Fitzger­ald started her new role as CEO of the U.S. Farm­ers & Ranch­ers Al­liance re­cently and is try­ing to unify the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s eight-year ef­fort to tell the story of agri­cul­ture in Amer­ica.

The Ohio na­tive is on a jour­ney to unite and el­e­vate the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­yond the “start-up men­tal­ity” that it’s had. Fitzger­ald is de­ter­mined to get USFRA a seat at the table for the con­ver­sa­tion. “We, in agri­cul­ture, quite of­ten haven’t been at the table. If we’re not at the table, then we’re lunch, right?”

SF: What is the mis­sion for USFRA?


USFRA’s mis­sion is to cre­ate a di­a­logue be­tween farm­ers, con­sumers, and stake­hold­ers on 21st cen­tury food sys­tems of the fu­ture. Con­sumers are ask­ing ques­tions: Where does my food come from? What are our dif­fer­ent prac­tices that are be­ing used on the farm? What is sus­tain­abil­ity, in par­tic­u­lar, sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture?

Our farm­ers have a long legacy of cre­at­ing con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment and com­mit­ment to the land. It’s our job to re­ally re­in­force and to be trans­par­ent and open and col­lab­o­ra­tive with con­sumers as they’re on this jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.

SF: What about the role ap­peals to you?


For the past 11 years, I worked to launch and cre­ate our sus­tain­abil­ity com­mit­ment in the dairy in­dus­try, and I worked with farm­ers and our board lead­er­ship at the In­no­va­tion Cen­ter for U.S. Dairy. I was in many dif­fer­ent stake­holder NAME: Erin Fitzger­ald

TI­TLE: CEO, U.S. Farm­ers & Ranch­ers Al­liance, a group that con­sists of more than 90 farmer- and rancher-led or­ga­ni­za­tions and ag part­ners LO­CA­TION: St. Louis, Mis­souri

HOME­TOWN: Find­lay, Ohio

COL­LEGE: Has a de­gree in fi­nance from the Univer­sity of Notre Dame PRE­VI­OUS ROLES: Se­nior vice pres­i­dent, global sus­tain­abil­ity for the In­no­va­tion Cen­ter for U.S. Dairy

BOARDS: She serves on the boards of Sus­tain­able Amer­ica and Aspen In­sti­tute First Movers Fel­low­ship Pro­gram, is a board ad­viser to Food Waste Re­duc­tion Al­liance, The Foun­da­tion for Food and Agri­cul­ture Re­search, and Na­tional Agri­cul­ture Wa­ter Qual­ity As­sess­ment, and she was a for­mer ex­pert in res­i­dence at the Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics. TWIT­TER: @fitzisit con­ver­sa­tions with NGOs (nongovern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions) and con­sumer groups on pan­els. There were a lot of great and some­times tough ques­tions. For lack of a bet­ter word, I was car­ry­ing the milk pail for many of the con­ver­sa­tions in ag. When this po­si­tion be­came avail­able, it was like, oh my gosh, I need a place where all of the brands, the ma­jor CPG (con­sumer pack­age goods) com­pa­nies, and con­sumers can come.

They don’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween the species in agri­cul­ture or soy­beans or corn. They just think agri­cul­ture. That’s why there needs to be one place. This is a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to unite agri­cul­ture – to find syn­er­gies.

SF: What will it take to unite agri­cul­ture?


Num­ber one, I think it’s com­mit­ment. There are a lot of other ag groups out there, and we all need to work to­gether. It’s go­ing to come from that board lead­er­ship – the farmer-elected leader of each check-off group – sit­ting at the table.

Hav­ing a com­mit­ment to re­ally work to­gether is key. Con­sumers are mov­ing faster than all of our groups can go. Be­ing united in hav­ing that com­mit­ment to stay to­gether is so im­por­tant. We don’t need to com­pete. That’s silly. We need to work to­gether and be smarter with the re­sources we’re putting into many of these or­ga­ni­za­tions. We need to elim­i­nate the con­fu­sion of all the dif­fer­ent groups.

SF: What does suc­cess look like one year from now? EF:

I would def­i­nitely like to start see­ing a com­mit­ment from agri­cul­ture. That would mean we re­ally do have a vi­sion that we have all signed up on and we’re com­mit­ted to. We started eight years ago – it’s hard to be­lieve it was eight years ago – but for the agri­cul­ture com­mu­nity, at large, it’s kind of been a start-up. It was a con­cept. It was say­ing we could. We could all be to­gether, united.

Now it’s 2.0. We now know we can work to­gether. We now know ev­ery­one’s at the table. So now that we’re all sit­ting at the table, what we do to­gether is the next ques­tion. What does it mean to be united and bold? At the end of this year, I want to see a recom­mit­ment to that. I would hope that we’re all in it for 2.0.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: USFRA

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