The interview: Joel G. Newman, President of AFIA
Joel G Newman is the American Feed Industry Association's former President, CEO and Corporate Treasurer. He also served as the President of the Institute for Feed Education and Research, AFIA's public charity, and represented AFIA on international issues, including serving on the International Feed Industry Federation's board of directors.
What first brought you into this industry?
I started my agribusiness career in 1971 at Agway, a northeast farmer cooperative. It was my first position out of college as I prepared to go on to veterinary school. However, I quickly learned that although I appreciated my animal nutrition skills, I really enjoyed the business side.
Agway provided many opportunities for me to work in various business units and also to lead acquisition and partnership endeavours. Ultimately, I decided to go back to Syracuse University for my MBA rather than veterinary school.
Throughout my career development, I expanded my affection for the feed industry and our contribution to animal agriculture and the food industry. That focus and additional career opportunities ultimately brought me to AFIA, and the rest is history.
What makes AFIA as an organisation so special and unique?
Without a doubt – our members. They have a pulse on the issues that will impact the animal food industry, now and into the future, and are a great sounding board for setting AFIA's policy direction. They are also very involved in bettering our industry and investing in future leaders. And finally, it is the tremendously talented and enthusiastic AFIA team, who takes the industry input and turns it into positive action on behalf of the industry.
In your time at AFIA, you have undeniably helped the association evolve and brought forward significant changes for the feed industry. What, for you, is your greatest success within AFIA?
If I had to pick one success, I think it would be redesigning the organisation to better serve the changing and future needs of the US animal food industry. We developed our 'Four Promises of Member Value,' which are Voice, Representation, Expertise and Engagement, and have focused our work around keeping these promises.
The redesign has had many positive outcomes, from increased member engagement and commitment, to a growing staff, a strong association culture and the financial stability to support this work.
We are now able to more effectively take on the projects our members care about and deliver many services – from legislative and regulatory support to networking and educational opportunities to international representation.
We have also been able to expand the work that our public charity, the Institute for Feed Education and Research, does on behalf of the industry to fill information gaps and help us share our story more effectively to policymakers, food retailers and consumer influencers. Our staff expertise and talent continues to grow, and I'm confident will continue delivering even more value for our industry in the years to come.
Which obstacles have been the most challenging to overcome in your time at AFIA?
Our core function has been to provide legislative and regulatory expertise on behalf of our members. While you might expect this means speaking to policymakers in the halls of Congress or regulators at the agencies we work with the most, you might not realise how much of it goes back to educating our members on regulations that impact their daily operations.
The Food Safety Modernisation Act was the most sweeping regulatory reform our industry had ever seen. Not only did we work on writing the initial legislation, we then worked with federal regulators to show them how this law would impact us and also developed tools and invested in research to help our manufacturer members make the necessary changes to their facilities or operations to come into compliance with the regulations.
Now, four years after the final rule was published, our members are prepared for inspections and are doing more than ever before to ensure animal food safety.
Do you think it's important to see more young people coming into the fold of organisations such as yours?
Most certainly and this is a continuous process. We are always looking for the right people with the right skills and experience for staff positions, as well as those that fit our culture and contribute to the team success.
For example, currently about half of our team are millennials – a third Generation X, a little further in their careers – and about 20% percent are seasoned experts, closer to retirement. This blended diversity capitalises on the unique talents, abilities and perspectives they each bring.
AFIA has learned, adjusted and evolved over the years to ensure we can attract and retain our team – introducing team dynamics Insights training, flex schedules, work from home policy, and most important - developing The AFIA Way to share and preserve our culture.
AFIA implemented a Sustainability Initiative that has placed a key emphasis on addressing consumer concerns in regard to feed ingredients. How important is sustainability to AFIA?
As an industry, we are working on a four-part sustainability initiative that examines how we can reduce our energy use, improve animal nutrition, support our communities and engage with consumers.
Probably one of the most important of those at this time is ensuring we are engaging with consumer influencers, who may be hearing conflicting information about our industry's environmental footprint.
We are doing more to set the record straight and tell our story through our public charity, the Institute for Feed Education and Research. We are also working with industry partners to research ways we can improve and collect data, so we can better work with our producer customers on collectively reducing agriculture's impact on the environment.
What do you see as a possible challenge that the industry may face over the next five years and how will AFIA play a part in prevention or solving it?
Over the next five years, I think the biggest challenges on the animal food industry will be equal access to free trade markets, 'disrupters' in the food industry (eg, new product offerings) and the acceptance of new technologies.
AFIA does not operate in a vacuum, so with many allied organisations, we will be working to promote trade agreements that benefit US industry and call for science-based trade standards.
We are working to illustrate how animal protein choices compare with alternative choices from a human and planet health perspective, consumers' top two values. Hopefully, with this balanced information, consumers can make the best choice for themselves and their families.
Our industry must also do a better job of sharing with the public the value of new technologies and also, allay possible consumer fears from their unknown of these technologies. These are all initiatives that are underway and are timely for the future success of the industry.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for Ms Constance Cullman, the new AFIA President?
My best guidance would be to continue to keep the members engaged and listen to how their businesses' needs are changing, both domestically and globally, due to outside influences or national policies.
Also, to be a catalyst for bringing more collaboration within the food and agriculture chain. Just like it takes many players within our agriculture and food community working together to continue providing nutritious and affordable food to Americans, we can't operate in silos when it comes to educating consumers and decision-makers on the value and accurate information industry regarding our industry.