Retiring National Grain & Feed Association (NGFA) President and CEO Randy Gordon offers his perspective and advice for the future of the US feed industry
After nearly 43 years serving the U.S. grain and feed industries, National Grain and Feed Association (NFGA) President and CEO Randy Gordon will retire in March 2021. Gordon, who joined the association in 1978, has served in various capacities within the organization before becoming its chief executive staff officer in 2012.
During his career, Gordon received the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) – one of only eight industry members to be so honored during AAFCO’s 110-plus-year history — and was recognized with an award from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for his efforts to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States.
Prior to his retirement, Feed Strategy editor Jackie Roembke connected with Gordon to gain his valuable perspective on the future of the U.S. feed industry and to hear his advice for the next generation of feed industry leadership.
Video transcript: Feed Strategy Chat with Randy Gordon, president and CEO, National Grain & Feed Association (NGFA)
Jackie Roembke, editor, Feed Strategy: Hi everyone, and welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I’m your host, Jackie Roembke, the editor of Feed Strategy.
This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and FeedStrategy.com. FeedStrategy.com is your source for the latest news and leading edge analysis of the global animal feed industry.
Today, we’re joined on Zoom by Randy Gordon, president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA). After nearly 43 years serving the grain and feed industries, Randy will be retiring in March. But before he does, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up with him to get his insights on the future of the U.S. feed industry.
Hi, Randy, how are you today?
Randy Gordon, president and CEO, NGFA: I’m well, Jackie. And I hope you are too. Good to see you too.
Roembke: Thanks. Well, we’ll get right into it. In your opinion, what is the most critical issue facing the U.S. feed industry today, and how do you think stakeholders should address it?
Gordon: Well, something I think the feed industry is very involved in right now and will continue to be is trying to ascertain the science and getting a better understanding of how to appropriately address what role, if any, feed ingredients or animal feed play in the transmission of animal diseases.
African swine fever, of course, is the biggest one that we’re concerned about right now. But you also have an example back in the early 2000s of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the BSE crisis, that took over in Great Britain. Eventually, we had some cases here in the United States and few in Canada, but we really, I think, at that time, we really had a good approach, and I think it’s a good model going forward, as we’re following African swine fever right now. And that is to really create a big camp that involves the animal feed industry, feed ingredients side of the business, as well as species groups, and the producer groups, academics and universities, scientific specialists in animal diseases — as well as from our colleagues in government, the Food and Drug Administration and others at USDA, that need to be involved in this issue.
We worked together, we developed — in that case, a very science- and risk-based approach for defeating BSE — and bringing it to an end. And in a very successful way here in North America, and eventually in Europe as well. It involves the removal of brain and spinal cord from cattle of certain ages, as a feed ingredient, and that did stem it and preserved our trade.
So I think that’s a good model going forward. But I think that whole area of looking at animal diseases — and they’re not all feed related — you have foot and mouth disease and other forms of foreign animal diseases that could devastate our domestic industry and potentially hamper our trade if they ever came to the United States and became established. But I think that’ll be an ongoing challenge for the industry.
Roembke: Absolutely. And what do you feel is the U.S. feed industry’s greatest opportunity moving forward?
Gordon: Well, I’m really bullish about the industry’s prospects on trade, both trade and feed and feed ingredients. But more importantly, probably on the value-added side of our business though the animals that we feed. We’ve certainly seen tremendous growth in exports of meat and poultry products. Aquaculture is a growing industry. And I think if we can avoid trade barriers, some of which are not our non-tariff trade barriers, like sanitary and phytosanitary barriers that countries sometimes erect — not that are not science based, but really designed to protect domestic industries and prohibit the trade. If we can overcome those kinds of challenges, I think the industry has a tremendous future ahead as we see more consumers around the world with more disposable income. And the first thing they want to do is improve their diets. And that, thankfully, is involving wanting to consume more animal protein products.
So we’ve got a real great opportunity, I think, on the on the trade front again, if we can address trade barriers and open up markets.
Roembke: Excellent. Drawing from your decades of experience, what piece of advice would you like to share with the feed industry’s next generation of leadership?
Gordon: I think there are two things, Jackie: One is to really get engaged with your trade associations in the area of agriculture that you’re involved in. If it’s the feed industry, we’d love to have you involved within NGFA. One of the great things that we did about eight years ago through a long-range planning effort was develop a committee apprentice program within NGFA, where managers of companies nominate the best and the brightest of their talent that’s coming up to serve on NGFA committees as non-voting members, but they’re involved in all of the correspondence, all the virtual meetings, all the in-person meetings when we can have them again, to delve into the public policy issues, and some of the broader industry issues that were involved in. And one thing you learned in that process, too, Jackie, is that our committees take a look at issues from what’s best for the industry, not necessarily what’s good for their individual companies. That gives you a greater perspective on the importance of the industry and how to make the whole industry succeed.
It’s a very competitive industry. But I found it’s a very sharing industry to in terms of mentoring young people, regardless of what company you’re with, and wanting to impart as much wisdom and knowledge as folks can. So get engaged with your association.
We also have a Next Gen program within NGFA where we have developed professional development webinars for them, to help them grow professionally in different areas of their careers. So get engaged with your associations; you’ll meet a lot of great people network with them. Learn as much as you can from them, pick their brains, and just be very aggressive in that that area. And you’ll find very willing people that are willing to share.
And the second thing, I guess I’d say, Jackie, is be persistent. If you love agriculture, and you love the area you’re working in. There are a number of times early in my career, I kind of second guessed myself a couple times I said, “Well, is this is the right career path for me?” And thank gosh, yes, it was and I stuck with it. You’re going to run into some bumps along the way. And you’ll learn from those experiences, both good and bad, and come out a lot better on the other end. So stick with it.
It’s a great industry, it’s an industry that’s got an unbelievable future going for it, a growing industry. So, while you may have some down days, from time to time, learn from those experiences and just fortify yourself, know that you’re going to be just fine coming out at the end of the day. So those are a couple things, I guess.
Roembke: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time today, Randy. And also thank you so much for your service and your contributions to both the feed and grain industries. I appreciate it and I know many others do as well.
Gordon: Jackie, you’re very kind and I’ve been really blessed to learn and know a lot of great people in this industry have loved watching your reporting and look forward to following your career and reading your stories as I sit back and watch your career continue on as well. So thanks for the opportunity.
Roembke: Thank you so much. And thank you to everyone for tuning in. Until next time.
Editor’s note: NGFA recently named Gordon’s successor, Michael Seyfert, who will assume the position on March 1, 2021.