Krysta Harden, President of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and promoter of a central role for women in the agrifood industry, receives recognition from IICA as a Leader of Rurality in the America
San Jose, 13 March 2023 (IICA) – Krysta Harden, a major pioneer in activism for a leading role for women in food production, and current CEO and president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), was recognized as one of the “Leaders of Rurality” of the Americas by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
Harden will receive the “Soul of Rurality” award, which is part of an initiative by this organization specializing in the development of agriculture and rural areas to give visibility to men and women who are leaving their mark and making a difference in rural life in the Americas, a region that is vital for the food and nutritional security and environmental sustainability of the planet.
Harden’s passion for agriculture started when she was a girl, growing up on her family’s peanut farm in the southern state of Georgia. She has come a long way since then in private sector work and public service, taking her to the highest levels of decision-making and responsibility. For instance, she was Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for three years.
Possessed with an enormous desire to learn and progress, Harden earned herself a place of importance in an area that is traditionally male-dominated. But she never forgot her roots on the farm, where her family worked hard in the fields.
So it was that she chose to work not only to ensure that more women could get involved in agriculture, but also for them to take leadership roles in their communities, in cooperatives, in companies and in government offices.
The Leaders of Rurality Award pays tribute to those who are playing a unique dual role: guaranteeing food and nutritional security, by producing under all circumstances, as well as protecting the biodiversity of the planet. This recognition also highlights the capacity to promote positive examples for rural areas in the region.
Caring for farmers and consumers
Profoundly knowledgeable about agriculture, sustainability and agricultural policy, in February 2021 Harden became the first woman to lead the USDEC, succeeding Tom Vilsack, who became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Founded in 1995, USDEC is an independent, non-profit organization representing dairy farmers, processors and cooperatives, suppliers of inputs and exporters.
Harden leads a team of specialists at USDEC whose mission is to improve the quality of dairy produced in the USA, meet consumer demands, work for farmers’ welfare and care for natural resources.
Before occupying this position, Harden was Chief Sustainability Officer at the Corteva Agriscience agricultural company and worked for seven years in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), three of them as Deputy Secretary. She also worked for the American Soybean Association and in the U.S. Congress as staff director of the House subcommittee on Peanuts and Tobacco.
Throughout her lengthy career in food production, Krysta has focused on improving opportunities also for young people, immigrants and vulnerable farmers. She has always shown her conviction that food production has a future in the diversity of the people who are involved in it around the world.
Harden said, “It’s so imperative that we have diversity of voices, more women’s faces, more people of color, people from different walks of life, to help our industry continue to be relatable, and keep growing. I believe that the next generation of leadership will be increasingly made up of women. I think as women in agriculture, we’re just getting started, and I’m very excited about what’s ahead”.
When asked what advice she would give young women who want to get ahead in agriculture, she says the first thing is to know and believe that they belong there. “Don’t let anybody make you feel like you don’t, because you do; then, use that seat at the table as wisely as you can because there are a lot of people looking at you. I always tell young women to be the kind of role model that they would look up to, and to allow themselves to learn and be aware of what they already know, and also of what they don’t know, and to not be afraid to ask for help to figure it out”.
Krysta is also strongly involved in the environmental agenda, which is fundamental today for the agrifood industry. This has led her to work toward the development and launch of the Net Zero Initiative, which sets ambitious goals for 2050: attaining carbon neutrality, optimizing water use through recycling, and improving water quality. The project, which involves stakeholders from the dairy sector throughout the U.S., works from the belief that the greatest challenges facing the agrifood industry today are the need to attain greater resilience, protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change through concrete actions.
A proud representative of dairy farmers, Harden is sure that the sector can play an increasingly important role in the production of safe and healthy food for the world, at a time when the issue is at the top of the global agenda. For this she firmly believes in the capacity and willingness of those who continue to support agriculture every day.