60 second interview: Importance of trade for feed and grain industry future

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags International trade

The feed and grain industry has a new voice in the recently elected chairwoman for the US Grains Council. A farmer from Iowa, Deb Keller was elected to her new position at the organization’s meeting earlier this summer.

As part of an ongoing going series looking at roles within the feed and grain industry we caught up with Keller to talk about what brought her to this point and where she sees the industry heading.

Feed Navigator: Tell us about your current role

Deb Keller​: I am currently the chair of the US Grains Council.

I am also a corn farmer in north central Iowa. I farm with my husband, our daughter and son-in-law, and my brother-in-law.

Feed Navigator: What’s your background?

Deb Keller​: I was raised in Indiana where I knew I wanted to have agriculture as part of my life. I received an agronomy degree from Purdue University. 

In regards to preparing myself for this current position, I have been a director with the Iowa Corn Promotion Board for 12 years and am a past chairperson of Iowa Corn. I served on the research committee as well as the export committee for Iowa as well as serving on the research committee for the National Corn Growers Association.

For the Council, I have served 11 years as a delegate and three years as leader for an advisory team then called ROW (for Rest of the World). I served as a board member for two years prior to taking a position in the officer rotation.

Feed Navigator: How did you get into the industry? And what has kept you involved with it?

Deb Keller​: Early on, I knew agriculture had to somehow be a part of my life. My experiences with Iowa Corn led me to the Grains Council, where I learned about trade.

I saw that trade doesn't just happen - markets need to be developed, relationships built, and many intricacies need to be worked out before that first shipment of corn, sorghum or barley can happen. As we say, “When trade happens, the world wins.”​ That's something I believe because I have seen it.

Feed Navigator: Is there such thing as a typical day for you? If so, what does it look like?

Deb Keller​: In regards to the Council, my role will vary significantly day-to-day, depending on what issues emerge and where I need to be involved in Council leadership, as well, of course, as the time of the year.

Maintaining customer relations is critical, especially in these times of uncertainty in trade policy. I expect to meet with many people this year to let them know the US farmers appreciate their business, that we are a reliable supplier of quality products, and that we are willing to continue to work to make trade happen.

My farm life is, of course, seasonal. I am actively involved in our operation. I drive the tractors and sprayers, and in the fall, I will be in the combine. I'm also licensed to drive the trucks.

It's important to understand the job you are being asked to do and then prepare yourself so that you can do it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Feed Navigator: What do you like most about your job and work with USGC?

Deb Keller​: The thing about the Council that intrigues me the most is seeing the creativity our staff uses on a daily basis to build markets and enable trade.

Just to give a few examples – I've seen how animal husbandry coupled with feeding good rations was taught to young boys in Morocco. When ships enter into Northern Africa, they are checked using standardized grain grading techniques taught to them by the US. Currently in China, excessive amounts of hog manure are becoming a limiting factor and the Council is working with the Chinese to share manure management best practices.

I'm excited to see where the Council’s new ethanol platform is headed. Ethanol exports throughout the world could make a huge impact on our large corn carryouts we see each year, and this is a growth area for the Council.

Feed Navigator: What's the hardest thing about your job and work with USGC?

Deb Keller​: For me the hardest thing about this industry is [the] patience [required].

Trade can take so much time and diligence to get right. It is crucial to the US farmer and rancher to have FTAs (free trade agreements) in place to help us compete in a global market. The US is falling behind the rest of the world in some ways, and we need to work to fix that and move forward. This isn't a fast process, but it's necessary and rewarding.

Feed Navigator: What advice would you give people interested in a job in your industry?

Deb Keller​: As with any job, prepare yourself for the position you want. Keep an open mind as to the many possibilities surrounding you and finally don't be afraid to fail. If you don't try, you'll never achieve anything.

Feed Navigator:Is anything you would do over in your career?

Deb Keller​: Too many times I lack confidence in myself, and I question my abilities. While it is important to always be willing to listen and learn, I need to remember that I've prepared. I think women and men often face similar feelings in their work, and I try to be an example of confidence through preparation.

Feed Navigator: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the grain or feed industry today?

Deb Keller​: Strong trade policy is critical for the US farmer. We have increased global competition that we need to take seriously.

Fortunately, the Council is working hard on our behalf to develop markets, build relationships, work through trade barriers and to find creative ways to make trade happen. All of that work depends on increasingly better market access and trade facilitation terms, as well as, continued robust support for market development programs through public and private means.  

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