WASHINGTON — On March 1, Randy Gordon relinquished the helm of the National Grain and Feed Association after serving eight years as that organization’s president and chief executive officer. Mr. Gordon previously was the NGFA’s vice president and communications director and altogether has been with the NGFA for nearly 43 years. He officially retires at the end of March.
During his career at the NGFA, Mr. Gordon has interacted with 8 presidential administrations and 12 secretaries of agriculture, 13 if one counts Tom Vilsack twice. As a senior officer at the NGFA, he participated in eight farm bill debates, grappled with the fallout of the 1980 embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union as well as more recent trade disputes, and has worked with the grain industry on making grain elevators and related facilities safer places to work.
Mr. Gordon told Milling & Baking News it was not his intent, 43 years ago, to make his career at the NGFA.
“Frankly, I came to NGFA thinking I’d spend just a handful of years here before resuming my career in journalism,” Mr. Gordon said. “But the noble purpose of the industry NGFA serves — striving to provide global food security, and achieving this through free enterprise, reliance on competitive markets, and doing so with integrity and honor — ended up making this my life’s work.”
Mr. Gordon pointed to some key accomplishments of the NGFA in which he takes special pride. At the top was industry efforts to improve workplace safety with an emphasis on reducing the threat of elevator fires and explosions.
“When I first joined its staff, NGFA was immersed in addressing the series of tragic fires and explosions that occurred at the Louisiana Gulf during the winter of 1977-78,” Mr. Gordon said. “In response, NGFA led an unprecedented research effort that spent more than $3.5 million in industry-generated funds to pursue 36 separate projects to discover the causes and ways of preventing these disasters. What resulted was nothing less than a revolution in grain elevator design and grain-handling practices to enhance workplace safety — such as open headhouses and the use of venting, suppression, grates and magnets, and monitoring devices to protect against explosion hazards.
“The resulting dramatic reduction in the number and severity of fires and explosions — and the lives saved — is perhaps the most gratifying and meaningful accomplishment of NGFA during my career. There were zero deaths in 2020 from fires and explosions in this industry. I am so proud to have been on staff to witness this truly transformational success story.”
The NGFA long has championed free and fair trade, the importance ensuring the United States is known as a reliable supplier in world agricultural markets and the principle that food should not be used as a weapon in relations between nations. All three precepts were challenged in 1980 when the Carter administration blocked commercial sales of US grain to the Soviet Union.
“One of my most memorable experiences was being in the room during the infamous Sunday morning meeting on Jan. 6, 1980, with Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland, other top USDA officials and US exporters following President Carter’s imposition of the embargo on 8 million tonnes of US grain sales to the Soviet Union on Jan. 4, 1980, in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,” Mr. Gordon said. “Louis Dreyfus himself flew to Washington overnight from France to attend.
“Vice President Walter Mondale met with the group the next day as USDA cobbled together a plan to retender grain contracts that had been canceled by the president’s action and to take ownership of grain represented by the exporters’ suspended contracts. Agricultural futures exchanges closed for two days as this arrangement was hammered out to avoid a market panic.
“Predictably, the Soviets responded by acquiring wheat from other countries to supplant the embargoed US supplies.”
The NGFA then helped lead industry efforts to restore the United States’ reputation as a reliable supplier, which had sustained a body blow because of the embargo.
“The ‘accomplishment’ came when Congress later amended the Export Administration Act to make it much more difficult for the US government to embargo agricultural commodities for either foreign policy or short-supply reasons, which was essential to gradually rebuilding the United States’ reputation as a reliable supplier,” Mr. Gordon said. “But unfortunately, we’ve experienced other forms of trade disruptions and the damage they can cause to US agriculture and the nation’s economy.”
Another NGFA achievement that continues to resonate was its successful effort to end federal acreage-idling programs, Mr. Gordon said.
“Starting in 1993, NGFA played the preeminent role in this effort through its US Agriculture 20/20 research and education program conducted under the auspices of NGFA’s Foundation,” Mr. Gordon said. “The message was simple and direct: Acreage idling policies already had resulted in a decade of economic stagnation that was plaguing US agriculture, and that South American and other global competitors were replacing US idled acreage by clearing and planting new land on nearly an acre-for-acre basis.
“In taking on this battle, NGFA was confronting nearly five decades of entrenched government supply-management policies. Fortunately, we had a legislative champion — Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas — who was willing to take the research and economic analysis NGFA did and lead the charge to enact what became known as the ‘Freedom to Farm Act’ of 1996.
“NGFA supported the effort with a series of local town hall meetings involving local farm leaders, grain and feed managers, bankers, farm supply companies and its affiliated state and regional associations that built grassroots support for this major policy change.
“When retiring in December 2020, Senator Roberts cited Freedom to Farm as his signature legislative accomplishment.”
The challenge going forward is to oppose attempts by some to use the Conservation Reserve Program to idle productive farmland, Mr. Gordon added. Ensuring the USDA and the federal government focus on idling only environmentally sensitive acres, and not productive farmland, in the CRP has been an NGFA priority through several farm bill debates.
Also a point of NGFA pride was the development of the first trade association feed quality assurance program and the paths that opened, Mr. Gordon said.
Mr. Gordon said the NGFA’s feed quality assurance program developed in 1993 served as a model and a resource for implementing and further enhancing feed safety and quality assurance practices at hundreds of commercial feed mills.
“This put NGFA in a great position to be an influential voice in successfully advocating science- and risk-based approaches to address bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) when a few cases occurred in the United States and Canada during the early 2000s after the major outbreak in the United Kingdom,” Mr. Gordon noted.
“NGFA’s involvement also was key when Congress enacted, and the Food and Drug Administration subsequently implemented, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 — the biggest reform of the nation’s food safety laws since 1938,” Mr. Gordon said. “Now, the NGFA is offering the contents of this comprehensive, first-of-its-kind program in a new web-based distance learning format. The six-course program is designed for use by feed mill managers in training existing and new mill operators, as well as other personnel (such as administrative and sales staff), on feed safety regulatory requirements and feed quality assurance practices.”
The scope of NGFA activities on behalf of the grain industry is incredibly broad, so it would be difficult to enumerate all its accomplishments as the organization enters its 125th year. But as Mr. Gordon retires, he may take pride in having served the association with distinction during more than a third of its existence.
“I’ve been very blessed to work with and get to know wonderful, outstanding people within NGFA’s industry membership, colleagues in other producer and agribusiness associations, government officials, and, of course, within our staff,” Mr. Gordon said. “I’ll cherish those friendships and memories for a lifetime.”