USFRA: VERSION 2.0 STARTS NOW
NEW CEO SAYS IT’S TIME FOR THE GROUP TO BE “UNITED AND BOLD” FOR U.S. AGRICULTURE.
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.