Leading Food Exec Gives Keen Business Counsel

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Communication Director: At the end of last year, the multi-billion dollar company, Land O'Lakes, promoted Beth Ford to group executive vice president and chief operating officer at Land O’Lakes, Inc. She has responsibility both for the Purina Animal Nutrition and U.S. Dairy Foods businesses and for Supply Chain and Operations, Information Technology and Research and Development across the entire Land O'Lakes, Inc. enterprise. Of course, I was curious to connect with Beth due to her role in supply chain and operations having covered supply chain management for the Institute of Supply Management for a decent chunk of my career.

Land O'Lakes' Beth Ford gets excited when the company has success based on teamwork. She encourages American companies small and large to work in a more collaborative and team environment. 

She was gracious enough to respond to my questions about the food supply chain. And, she’s got great insights for business professionals.

Her nuggets of advice follow.

  1. Innovate across the company. Our innovation spans our enterprise — from farm to fork. We’ve invested in technology and science, giving the producers the ability to select the tools they choose on the acre. We develop drought-resistant seed and tools — including our satellite R7® Tool — that help farmers pinpoint exactly what nutrients underperforming products need.  We know what is going to work because we have more than 200 Answer Plot® locations across the country that allow us to research what works best and provide a proving ground for our products.

  1. Focus on your core and build from there: Innovate from your expertise, what you do and know best. The need for agility cannot be overstated; it’s critical to responding to market changes and consumer needs. As farmers and ranchers, you understand this well: What are commodity markets doing, How will you adjust your crop and livestock portfolio, how are you managing debt?

  1. Ensure ongoing success is addressing our challenges with recruiting and retaining top talent: We—Land O’Lakes, Inc. in particular and the industry as a whole—are growing, but the talent pool hasn’t kept up with the demands. We need to have enough highly talented, highly trained people in positions to feed 9 billion people by 2050. More globally, the biggest challenge is feeding the world sustainably. Lastly, we need to address the headwinds that require better thinking, better planning and better execution. Farming understand this too, we need legal, available skilled labor. 

  1. Be Transparent: The biggest trend in the food supply chain and in the industry as a whole is consumers’ desire for information about where their food comes from, the ingredients and how it’s produced. Put simply, consumers want transparency. This trend will only continue. And that’s good news for all of us. We see this as an opportunity to tell our story as a farmer-owned cooperative more deeply and broadly.

  1. Be responsive to consumer demands and respond appropriately: Companies need to be able to show that they hold animal care as a core value and how they’re ensuring that through suppliers and members. For example, 100 percent of the member milk we process at our plants comes from FARM-verified farms [Farmers Assuring Responsible Management]. It’s one way we can help consumers understand the importance we place on animal care.

  1. Educate: We have an obligation to educate. We need people to understand that foods made with GMOs are not bad food or different food. They’re safe, affordable foods made with ingredients that help farmers produce more food more sustainably.

  1. Bring everyone to the table: American agriculture feeds the world. We need all parties at the table as we figure out how to feed over 9 billion people by 2050. Farming isn’t a job; it’s a commitment and a way of life. The producers who are our member-owners know the end-to-end business that we’re in. I would encourage farmers—and anyone working in agribusiness—to ask themselves whether we’re in touch and aligned with marketplace demands.

  1. Get broad experiences, especially early, in your career paths: Don’t be afraid to take what looks like a sideways tract to get additional experience. Realize your career is a journey, and you need to be a positive partner in that journey. Encourage others to succeed with you. Investing in education is some of the best money you’ll spend.

  1. Be a Team Player: I get excited when the company has success based on teamwork. Land O’Lakes is one of the most collaborative environments I’ve ever worked in and when a team of people successfully tackles a challenge together -- each person bringing a different perspective and making the solution better – that’s a good day.

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