Before moving to AFIA, Constance Cullman was president of the Farm Foundation. The feed association announced the selection of its newest head in May, following the news that Joel Newman was planning to retire in December. Cullman officially joined AFIA in July and took over in October.
“I’ve never had the luxury to have an overlap with a predecessor like I had with Joel Newman,” Cullman said of the transition period. “It’s an advantage to the organization as well to be able to continue things seamlessly," she told FeedNavigator.
How does she see the role of the organization, now and in the future?
“First and foremost, AFIA is there to represent the sector in such a way that its voice is heard by policy decision-makers and we want those decisions to take into account the impact that those policies have on our agricultural economy and our sector. That’s the primary thing that AFIA is here for, to be a resource for those who want to know more about what our industry does and how it operates, and also to be looking around the corner at emerging issues.
“That’s how I see AFIA moving forward – filling those fundamental needs for representation and engagement and expertise, but also moving into a thought leadership position,” she said.
Cullman will also be the first female head of AFIA.
“When I first started my career I never really thought of myself as a woman leader in ag,” she said. “I wanted to be a leader in food and agriculture, but along the way I discovered I got a lot of calls from young women interested in food and agriculture and asking, ‘How do you do it?’ And, ‘How do I get involved?’ And, ‘How do I have a voice in the sector?’”
“It’s been a privilege to go from being the only woman in the room to being one of many in the agriculture industry,” she said. “It’s nice to see that change happen because we need all the talent and smart people we can get in the industry.”
Cullman’s work with the Farm Foundation helped prepare her for new role:
“The core of [my work at the Foundation] was figuring out how do we collaborate, and how do we convene the right people together?” Cullman said. “And, if there’s ever been a time in food and agriculture, and particularly in the animal food sector, where we need to convene and collaborate, it’s now.”
“[Working at] Farm Foundation, meant me not having to take a policy position, which was liberating for a period of time, but for me, [now, in this new role at AFIA] it is exhilarating to get back in and advocate for those issues that are fundamental for our sector.”
The first few months with the association have allowed her to engage with members and learn more about the challenges and problems they face, she said. It also highlighted areas for opportunity and development and provided a way to gain more knowledge of the specific regulations and agencies that work with the animal feed industry, added Cullman.
Feed sector challenges
Some of the challenges that the animal feed industry faces include the regulatory approvals process and ongoing implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), said Cullman.
Innovation in the sector is being “stifled” by the regulatory process, which remains unpredictable and lengthy, she said. “When Europe is three years ahead of us in approving ingredients we have to ask, ‘What do we need to do differently in our regulatory approach?”
Other challenges include addressing the potential threat from African Swine Fever (ASF) and pathogenic threats to animal production, in general, she said. “How do we make sure that we’ve got the biosecurity processes in place to be able to minimize the risk of introduction or transference of any pathogenic event – that’s a huge priority for us and is taking up a lot of our time.”
The AFIA is also focused on supporting the revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada – the USMCA – and excited to see progress with Japan, said Cullman.
“We are looking forward to seeing that finalized so we can begin to renew the export of products to Japan and gain back some of that market space we started to lose following our withdrawal from the Tran-Pacific Partnership,” she added.
However, China also remains an important market for the industry and is a sole source of some ingredients, she said. Resolution of the trade war with Beijing is critical.
Those trade challenges of late have highlighted the need to diversify export markets, she said. AFIA is exploring Vietnam as a potential market, and is in the process of conducting a market assessment in relation to that Southeast Asian country.
However, the organization is increasingly aware of a fundamental shift in global trading patterns, Cullman said.
“If China were to be resolved tomorrow, of course our exports to China would pick back up, but over time, I think we’ll see that we are going to have other suppliers competing more rigorously with us,” she said. “We’ve got to take a look at diversifying our export markets, [to minimize] the risk.”
Engagement with IFEEDER
As head of the AFIA, Cullman is also the president of AFIA’s public charity – the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFFEDER).
That institution looks to research and examine issues facing the feed and grain industries, she said.
“IFEEDER gives us the ability to have objective third party analysis of some of the issues that are most critical to us, to inform the positions we take and out decision making,” she said. “It also allows us to reach out and collaborate with other entities, whether it’s academics or organizations or other foundations [or] government to [tackle some of those issues]."