Written by: Guest | July 20, 2022
By: Gracie Wagner, AFIA's communications intern
Rendering is an important part of the agriculture industry, as it offers an environmentally friendly way of recycling materials that would otherwise be wasted. In fact, rendered products can comprise up to 5% or more of some animal diets. It is an interesting topic to learn about, and I enjoyed learning bits and pieces about it when my boyfriend worked in rendering, which made me more excited to work on this topic!
I recently had the opportunity to ask the North American Renderers Association’s (NARA) Kent Swisher about his background, current role and goals for the association as its new president and chief executive. NARA is an alliance that brings together the North American rendering industry and represents members’ interests to regulatory and other governmental agencies, promotes the greater use of animal byproducts and fosters the opening and expansion of trade between foreign buyers.
Q: Tell me about your background. What led you to your current position as NARA’s president and CEO?
Swisher: I grew up on a grain and livestock farm in central Indiana and graduated with a degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University. My first job out of college was with Wayne Feeds in Kentucky and southern Indiana. In the mid 1990s, I began working in international agriculture when I took a job in Washington, D.C., for an international trade association. By the time I started with NARA, I had gained a solid background in trade policy, market access, solving trade irritants and managing U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperator programs, including the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program. I started with NARA in 2003, the same year that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found in North America and spent the next 19 years working on getting our export markets back. In 2004, the year following BSE, the U.S. exported only 205,739 metric tons of rendered animal protein meals. This small amount was due to the loss of market access from BSE restrictions. In 2021, those exports grew to 1,117,972 metric tons, largely due to NARA’s work in re-opening markets. Many of the strategies used to open and maintain markets overseas involve the same strategies employed in managing policy in the U.S., so, stepping into NARA’s president and CEO role is a natural fit.
Q: What are some of your goals for NARA going forward?
Swisher: My main goal is to evolve the organization into a leaner, more nimble organization. During COVID-19, we proved that we could have a remote workforce that is just as efficient, if not more efficient, than a full-time office workforce. In 2022, we began hiring positions remotely that were traditionally headquartered in the Alexandria office. This allows the organization a broader pool of talent, most times living in areas of the country with lower costs of living, which adds to the efficiency of the organization. Managing a remote workplace is second nature to me as I have spent 20+ years managing international programs with employees and consultants often on the other side of the world in different time zones. As we see continual consolidation in our industry, it is important to run a nimble, lean organization while not compromising our core duties.
Q: How do you plan to work with allied organizations, like the American Feed Industry Association, in the future?
Swisher: NARA has always relied on strong relationships with other agricultural organizations. It is important for agricultural organizations to work together in areas of common interest. The American Feed Industry Association, Pet Food Institute and NARA participate in monthly trade calls where the organizations coordinate their trade agendas along with taking part in joint meetings with regulators. This unified approach to addressing regulatory and/or trade concerns is crucial in making positive change in Washington. I plan to continue working closely with allied organizations like the AFIA.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your position?
Swisher: My favorite thing about my position is being able to work with great people. The NARA office is extremely small for the amount of work that we do. Our staff is highly independent and highly motivated. In addition, our industry is full of very talented people, some of whom chair our committees. It is a true pleasure to work with such a great group of people in a coordinated effort to promote the well-being of the industry.
Q: Can you share a fun fact about what you do outside of work?
Swisher: The most important part of my life is my wife and four children. Raising the kids in a small house on a tributary to Chesapeake Bay allows us to spend a lot of time on the water, fishing and crabbing. These days, my time is limited, but I still enjoy spending time on the water. I am also an avid runner and try to run in a few road races every year, though my marathon running days are long behind me.