EXECUTIVE PROFILE: Dr. Barbara Glenn, CEO of NASDA

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, WIA Media (September 2019)


Dr. Barbara Glenn, who has held the position of CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) since 2014, said she feels blessed to be able to work with the groups’ members who represent the commissioners, secretaries, and directors of the state departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four territories. Immersed in ag since childhood through family farming, the calling to serve in ag was strong and nearly a given for Dr. Glenn.


Having realized early on that “nothing was more significant than providing food”, her passion to help in this endeavor led her to study animal agriculture and science. Armed with years of involvement in 4-H, a bachelor’s degree in animal science, and a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition, she embarked on a nearly 20-year career as a “bench scientist” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). She also has served as senior vice president of science and regulatory affairs for CropLife America, and managing director of the Animal Biotechnology, Food and Agriculture Section of the Biotechnology Industry Association in Washington, D.C.


Sparked by the retirement of a colleague who had been the “voice of agricultural science” to policy makers in Washington, D.C., she realized just how important it was to communicate the significance of all the scientific research to these decision-makers. So she applied and got the job with the Federation of Animal Science Societies, realigning her career to be the voice of her peer scientists.

Along the way, in 1996-97, she was named the first woman president of the American Society of Animal Science, where she has been a member since 1975. Dr. Glenn said she has seen the number of women involved in ag grow significantly during her career and continues to see great opportunity to make a difference in the sector. But always, she said, “I continue to value and understand the extreme importance of the scientific voice behind agriculture, because in the U.S. agriculture is a science-based enterprise. That’s how we support research, new technologies, AI, big data, and foodtech. There are amazing levels of new science that we need every day in agriculture.”

WIA had the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Glenn from her office in Arlington, Virginia, to learn more (NOTE: This interview was conducted in May 2019 so some legislative action may have taken place since that time, respective to the answers below.)

1. Last year you noted that the passing of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) was a top priority for NASDA. This legislation has moved along in the process, but is still not in effect. Is this still a top concern for NASDA, and if so, what efforts are in place to support movement on this? Additionally, what does the delay of ratification mean for U.S. farmers/agriculture?

First let me say that our mission at NASDA is focused on enhancing agriculture by forging new partnerships to achieve sound agricultural policy. We work very closely with the federal government, our state departments of agriculture, and our stakeholders and allies, including Capitol Hill. As an ag policy shop, our members are key voices in agriculture and food and natural resources. NASDA is the united voice for the commissioners, secretaries, and directors.

At NASDA, one of the top priorities is international trade and harmonization. Ratifying the USMCA is our top legislative priority for 2019. We recognize that North American food and agricultural exports are critical for our farmers and ranchers. Our members are very close to their constituents and work to advance the ability for these folks to export goods from their states – not only farmers and ranchers, but also small, medium, and large-sized agribusinesses. We work to secure new markets for them.

The USMCA represents expansion of market access in Canada and Mexico, with estimates indicating about a $450 million increase for U.S. ag exports. We also are supporters of the simultaneous resolution of the Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Tariffs (sometimes called the metal tariffs), which the administration placed on Canada and Mexico. What we have there is that both countries felt the need to retaliate and apply tariffs on our businesses. The upshot of it is that while pressing for the USMCA to open market access, those tariffs tend to deplete access.

This is a top concern for us because most of the consumers of our food and agricultural goods are outside of the United States. During this delay in ratification, U.S. farmers and ranchers are benefiting from NAFTA because it is still in effect, but there’s additional benefits lost without ratification of the USCMA, such as improvements in modernization and innovations in technology, so we want to push this through.

The delay intersects with a political dynamic in the U.S. because we have a presidential election in 2020. Campaigns tend to take the attention of Congress, so we hope to see the USMCA ratified as soon as possible.

The second part of wanting to move ratification forward is that there are several new trade agreements on the horizon with Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, and we need to have the ability to move on to those new markets, not only from the standpoint of our negotiators but to benefit the agribusinesses in our states. Negotiating takes time so it’s important that we have the portfolio of new markets opening quickly. Additionally, our competitors are not standing still and they are gaining some competitive advantage while we wait for ratification, and that is not something we want to see happen.

2. What impact has the country’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) had on U.S. farmers?

NASDA was a strong supporter of the TPP, signed by President Obama, which included 12 of the countries in the Pacific Rim area, including China, and was an opportunity to grow our ag export market in what was deemed to be the largest regional trade agreement in history. When President Trump was elected, he pulled us out of the TPP. The immediate impact is that we didn’t get a chance to grow those markets with those countries. And now, 11 of those countries have signed something called the CPTPP, which is an advancement of that agreement. The U.S. is not a part of that agreement at this time, nor is China. So the ultimate impact of pulling out of TPP was that we had a gap to fill in finding new opportunities to advance the value of our agricultural productivity. That’s why USMCA is so important, as well as new free trade opportunities.

The administration is pressing on a very ambitious plate of new opportunities, but everything in trade negotiations takes time and while that time is marking, we are losing our competitive advantage.

3. A record number of women are holding top state jobs, including more than a dozen country-wide ag commissioners. We will feature many of them on a keynote panel at our upcoming Women in Agribusiness Summit in September. Can you share with us the strides that have been made to bring more diversity to the office of commissioners and the industry itself?

Agriculture must embrace change. We have had massive changes in methods of production, types of farmers, and ample impact from new innovations in technology… and all of these have been developed in the new landscape where the consumer is very interested in their food and the food supply chain. The changing face of the food retail space has had a major impact.

With the last election, we now have 14 women commissioners, secretaries, and directors. When I started in 2014, we had six women serving in these roles, so in five years, we have doubled the number of women in these positions.

Their role is even more challenging and ambitious than it has ever been before. I think women bring forward the talents of the ability to listen, to find collaborations and coordination with others, to be goal oriented, and to find solutions. We have a very robust group of women who are coming into or continuing in these leadership roles in these 14 states. Their dual role includes having to be an expert and chief ag negotiator in their state, and work as a co-regulator with the federal government. But overall, these individuals are promoters of agriculture in their state from farm to table. Their day-to-day activities are not just with farmers but with the consumers. I think bringing these women leaders forward will broaden our scope, broaden our perspectives for NASDA, and will be a huge positive for the organization and the ag industry.

NASDA supports diversity and inclusion as an organization. The most important aspect of this advance in diversity is building the future leaders in food and ag, as the next generation is going to be very diverse.

4. How did your lifelong involvement with 4-H, as well as living on a farm and your background as a scientist, influence your decision to make a career in ag? Do you feel that ag is a good career choice for women?

A large contribution to my success today was due to 4-H where I gained an early understanding of leadership, character, communicating, and connecting. Additionally, from the start with my family in Nebraska, my passion was to define the moral right to food. There was nothing more important in my mind – having the family background of a farmer – than providing sustenance for others. From a very early age, I had this respect and understanding – particularly from my mom’s side where she was raised on a small farm in Nebraska – of how difficult it was for them to subsist on a farm. So early on, I had this passion that there was nothing more significant that providing food.

I was interested in animal agriculture and animal science. I started out as a horse project person. I was a constant learner, and having majored and received a Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Kentucky, I realized that science provided the truth, so I focused on “facts not fear” in discussing agricultural science. In the first part of my career, I was what they called a “bench scientist” and my area of expertise was in dairy cattle nutrition.

Right now agriculture is a great career choice for women because of the unique characteristics and leadership skills that women have, and the very important need for communication, listening, collaboration, and coordination in the sector. That’s what we need now in ag. We need to enhance the agricultural literacy of our neighbors, and I think the leadership of women is going to be critical to filling the gap to instill shared values and teach people about food and agriculture.

5. In your five years as head of NASDA, what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the agricultural policy leadership that NASDA has achieved. An example is not only individual policy wins, but that six of our former NASDA members are in advanced leadership positions with the USDA today. And I’m very proud of their work; these folks were very “shovel ready” as we say in agriculture. They knew from farm to table what agriculture was all about. They are achieving new heights and solving problems and providing opportunities for the USDA. This is the caliber of members we have. With them we have been able to advance our ag policy portfolio and build a need for a strong state and federal partnership.

The second thing that I am proud of is our service to NASDA members – in the work that we’ve been able to do to advance people and bring forward their voices as part of a united voice in agriculture. None of what we do in food and ag would happen without talented leaders and people, so our investment in people is probably the most significant thing we can do.

6. Please share with us what has been a defining moment in your career.

The most defining moment of my career was that after 17 years of conducting research with the USDA in their Agricultural Research Service agency, working with lactating dairy cows and writing research papers for publications, I realized that the most important thing we needed for animal agriculture was to have scientists who understood the research and the facts get into the Washington D.C. arena and affect ag policy.

That was my defining moment. I quit my job and was blessed to be offered a position doing governmental affairs and science with a group called the Federation of Animal Science Societies, which was the united voice for all the livestock and poultry scientists in the U.S. I knew many of them, these were my peers, and I had a new job – to be their united voice in Washington. It wasn’t an experience I had previously had, but I knew I had to discontinue putting my arm in a cow and move on to communicating the significance of our research.

It was a defining moment because I loved the change I had made, and while I wasn’t trained for the position, I had seen it in action and had a vision for what we needed to do, and they let me run with it.

ABOUT BARBARA GLENN


Dr. Barbara Glenn joined the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) as CEO in 2014. She is a scientist with decades of experience as a researcher, policy leader, and advocate for agriculture. She previously held leadership positions with CropLife America and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, as well as with the USDA, conducting dairy cattle nutrition research. She was the first woman to serve as president of the American Society of Animal Science.


Dr. Glenn holds a B.S. in animal science and a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition from the University of Kentucky. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and raised in Centerville, Ohio, she developed a passion for agriculture from her parents and her involvement in 4-H. The Glenn’s have three grown children who are 4-H alumni and live on a small farm in Maryland. Dr. Glenn serves on various local boards for farm bureau, 4-H and ag education.

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