Agribusiness leader: The value of 'all voices'

Land O'Lakes President/CEO Beth Ford talked about diversity, inclusion, technology and the pandemic during a national agricultural leaders conference.

Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc. (Photo courtesy of Land O'Lakes)

Diversity and inclusion make agriculture better for everyone, a top agribusiness executive says.

"We want all voices, don't we? We're stronger as a nation, we're stronger as an industry, if we have more folks engaged in our business and understanding the importance of what we do as an ag community and why rural communities are so critically important," said Land O’Lakes President/CEO Beth Ford.

Ford spoke Sept. 1 during the National Association of State Department of Agriculture's meeting, "Energizing Agriculture for the Future." Originally slated to be held in Medora, N.D., the event was conducted online and was available to the news media. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who was finishing his term as the organization's 2019-20 president, hosted the meeting.

NASDA describes itself as "a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of the departments of agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. Established in 1916, NASDA grows and enhances American agriculture through policy, partnerships and public engagement. "

Ford took the top job at Land O'Lakes in 2018. The Fortune 200 Minnesota-based food and agriculture company may be most famous for its line of butter products. The farmer-owned cooperative, based in Arden Hills, Minn., and formed in 1921, drew national attention this spring when it announced that it would remove the decades-old illustration of a Native American woman from its products,


"Everybody knows our butter," said Ford, who noted the company has many other endeavors, including owing Purina.

In her presentation during the NASDA event, Ford took questions from Barb Glenn, NASDA CEO, and online audience members.

Among the questions: How is Land O'Lakes leadership responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

"Protect the enterprise. protect the employees" by reexamining the company's financial situation," Ford said. "We're in very strong position."

Land O'Lakes also is working to help employees cope with the unusual times. "We're really focused on our team, keeping them focused and engaged," Ford said.

Ford also was asked about techology

"We know technology is an enabler, she said. Her company was talking, even before the pandemic, about the importance of supporting technology in rural communities, where access to it can be particularly difficult.

Developing partnerships is crucial to meeting the challenge, she said.


In summing up her presentation, Ford returned to diversity and inclusion in ag, issues she said she frequently addresses.

"I think that there are a lot of people who wouldn't understand how exciting this industry is and how open and wonderful this is to have a meaningful career. We need to get all voices to make sure that we can make change," she said.

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