Feed Bites

Year One with AFIA: Not the One We Expected

Written by: Constance Cullman   |   August 17, 2020

Member value, Coronavirus, Our role in ag, Ensuring a stable food supply

Chickens

It has been about a year since I joined the American Feed Industry Association. I can say without a doubt – it has not been the year I expected!

Instead of spending my days on the road meeting AFIA’s members in their offices or at their facilities, attending events and seeing the AFIA team work with our members to deliver first-class education and networking events, or meeting in-person with elected officials and government representatives, half of the year has been spent learning a new way of doing business.

I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. You have been adapting to the same challenges.

But in addition to becoming proficient with video conferencing across multiple computer platforms, here is what I have learned:

  • The animal food industry is a complex, highly technical industry tightly intertwined with other segments throughout the food supply chain.
  • The caliber of our people engaged in the animal food industry is second to none – innovative, diverse and dedicated to providing high-quality animal nutrition and cutting-edge advancements for animal health and sustainability.
  • We are directly impacted by the structure of the overall agricultural sector and benefit from its strengths and are challenged by its weaknesses.
  • Our success is dependent upon the long-term and innovative prospects of animal agriculture.
  • Like many other parts of agriculture, we operate in a global market for both inputs for production and marketed products.
  • COVID-19 gave the public a glimpse of the importance of a healthy agricultural sector to provide a stable, affordable food supply - with animal protein.  It is now up to us to build upon that glimpse.  
  • We have a diverse industry segment that understands the need to work together more than any other segment with which I have worked.

The implications I see from these learnings are many.

The U.S. agricultural sector was once described to me as an aircraft carrier – powerful to be sure – and once it is underway, there is no stopping it. But, it also has trouble quickly changing direction or responding to course corrections.

This past year has highlighted that our industry, whose economies of scale have been instrumental in serving all segments of the industry including retail consumers, food service, schools and institutions with food choices for everyone, faced difficulty when asked to change overnight. Can we learn to make that aircraft carrier turn on a dime? Can we simultaneously be a major global production powerhouse and be able to quickly adjust to changing market forces and disruptions? I believe the answer is yes.

While the feed industry has been closely watching the impact of evolving consumer preferences for animal protein, we got a taste of what long-term change would be like when we experienced a huge drop in market animals as meat processing capacity became severely curtailed. Access restrictions to needed inputs and market uncertainty for export markets demonstrated the strong global linkages on which our sector depends, while the burgeoning awareness of consumers and the public to the importance of our industry will only grow if we step up our engagement with them.

All of this indicates one thing – we must work together, communicate more clearly, operate more transparently and build relationships with the very people who depend upon our products. Gone are the days when the rugged “we can go it alone” philosophy could succeed. 

Fortunately, here is where my last learning comes into play – we are an agriculture industry segment that understands the need to work together. The U.S. animal food sector is uniquely positioned to demonstrate that ability to work together and collaborate for the benefit of the whole U.S. agricultural industry and global consumer. We can be the example to lead the way.

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