Keith Epperson, the American Feed Industry Association’s vice president of manufacturing and training, has announced his retirement. After nearly 40 years in the feed industry, nine of which spent serving AFIA members, Epperson said it’s the people that he will miss the most.
Epperson recently sat down with Miranda McDaniel, AFIA’s manager of communications, as he recalled the highlights from his career.
McDaniel: How did you decide on a career in the feed industry?
Epperson: In 1976 Kent Feeds was building a new feed mill in my hometown, Marshall, Mo. I grew up with family in agriculture therefore the values were already instilled. I researched the company, talked with the plant manager and was hired right there on the spot. The feed industry sounded like a challenging, interesting, professional opportunity, and I can honestly say it has been.
I spent the first nine years of my career at the Marshall plant, gaining valuable experience while being promoted to various positions. Then, in 1984, I accepted the position of District Sales Manager in north Missouri, gaining additional experience and developing new relationships in the feed industry.
Kent began construction of a new feed mill in Mason, Mich., in 1989 and I was promoted to Plant Manager of that facility, moving north so I could assist with the completion of construction on the plant. In addition, my wife and I decided to build a new home for our family in Mason. I remember, the two construction projects kept me very busy!
I was Plant Manager at the Mason location for three years, and enjoyed the challenges of opening the new plant and working with the construction company and staff to complete the project. I appreciated the hard work and dedication of
the Mason plant employees to our customers.
Eventually, I had the opportunity to move back to the home office of Kent Corporation in Muscatine, Iowa. I served in many capacities while there, eventually retiring as Vice President of Quality Assurance, Safety and Training and Operations of the Eastern Region.
One very strong bond that came about during my years at Kent was the one formed with AFIA. I had the opportunity to serve on several AFIA committees and immensely enjoyed the committee members I met through the years, AFIA staff and a variety of other professionals who represent or interact with the feed industry. It gave me the opportunity to develop many long-time relationships and work with those people to complete many projects that have had a positive impact on our industry.
M: Why did you make the transition from industry to AFIA?
E: In 2005, I was approached by AFIA as they had an opening for the position I currently hold today—Vice President of Manufacturing and Training. I was very familiar with the association and what its mission was because I had previously served as chairman on three committees. The role seemed like it would be a good fit for my skill sets while allowing me to continue working with AFIA staff and members who I had met through my many years in the feed industry, which is why I accepted. My first day was Nov. 1, 2005.
AFIA has allotted me the opportunity to continually work with industry within our membership, other industry professionals and government agencies to face the issues affecting our industry today.
M: There is one thing I have learned, everyone has a “first day on the job story.” What’s yours?
E: Well my first day on the job at AFIA actually went pretty smoothly, but I do have a story about when I interviewed for the role. I flew to Washington, D.C., from Iowa on an early morning flight and planned to leave on a flight later that day after my interview, so all I brought was a briefcase with the necessary documents thinking I was well prepared. Well sorry to say, Hurricane Katrina made landfall and all of the flights were cancelled. I spent the night in D.C. with no clothes besides my suit, no toothbrush, etc., watching the news and hoping those affected would all be safe.
M: Did you think you would stay with the organization until your retirement?
E: Absolutely. I could see when I joined and I still believe today that the benefits of what AFIA does for the industry and the issues it has worked on from day one are very important. However, I don’t know if I planned on waiting this long to retire, but I am glad I did. It has been a very rewarding nine years, working on and completing so many projects to serve our members and helping them meet the challenges facing our industry today. I can see the future brings a lot of work to be done; however, I feel I am leaving any unfinished issues in very capable hands.
M: What has been your favorite AFIA-hosted event?
E: The Equipment Manufacturers Conference, which AFIA hosts every November—it’s like going to a family reunion for me. In addition to recognizing so many familiar faces, it is a very worthwhile conference. The proceeds go to a scholarship fund and that fund has grown a great deal in the past few years. The committee has grown from one scholarship awarded per year to three and being able to watch it grow shows great potential for the future of the industry. The conference offers a strong education format with great speakers representing both the equipment side of the feed industry and other aspects of agriculture as well.
M: What’s the No. 1 reason you’ve stayed in the feed industry so long?
E: Oh, that’s easy… the people. The people in our industry are genuine and have a true desire to feed the world. They realize the job of feeding the world safely rests, to some degree, on their shoulders and they are willing to accept that challenge and meet the needs of the world’s population. They have a commitment to their jobs—be it ingredients, equipment, research or nutrition—to keep our industry moving forward with safe, wholesome products that are environmentally friendly. And my has it changed. I have seen the industry move to a safer and more environmentally friendly industry with the animal and customer in mind.
M: In the nearly 10 years you have been with AFIA I am sure you have had a lot of good times, what has been your favorite moment?
E: There’s not a favorite moment, but continuing to meet more people on a daily basis, and continuing to help people become better at what they do in our industry through AFIA’s education programs such as the Safe Feed/Safe Food Certification Program and conferences like the International Feed Expo. Since day one, I have always enjoyed attending the many conferences and meeting the new people that are joining our industry.
M: So tell me, what’s your claim to fame, your top achievement?
E: That is a really tough question, but I would have to say when I was chosen as AFIA’s 2000 Member of the Year—when I was still working in the industry—was special to me. The fact that I was recognized for my work on the committees was a meaningful moment, and still is for that matter.
M: Retirement is just around the corner. What are you looking forward to the most?
E: Enjoying more time with my family—perhaps they’ll call it “bothering them,” is something I look forward to. Not having a timeline on my to-do list, but finishing things on my schedule. While living at the lake is like living in a vacation spot, I do plan to do some volunteer work and maybe some travel. However, I still want to stay involved in the industry by helping companies become SF/SF certified in whatever way I can.
M: We all know retirement is the perfect time for R&R, but what will you miss most about your job?
E: Honestly, Monday morning staff meetings [chuckles] JUST KIDDING! Again, my job is about the people. I interact with a large number of people on a daily basis so I will miss the faces, new and old. However, I’m not sure I will miss the heavy travel schedule though.
M: If there is one thing you would say to those considering stepping foot inside the feed industry for a life-long career, what would it be?
E: The world is going to need to be fed and the feed industry is going to play a big role in that process. And although we have seen great changes in efficiency, human safety, feed safety and environmental safety there’s still a lot of changes and opportunities for those who want to work and develop those areas as we move forward.
Epperson will retire from AFIA Dec. 31, 2014, after 39 years of dedication to the feed industry.