MINNEAPOLIS – In an effort to help women in the agribusiness industry “know their business better,” HighQuest Group, a global agribusiness consulting, events and media firm held the 2019 Women in Agribusiness Summit Sept. 25-27 in Minneapolis. The 8th edition of the summit brought together 850 attendees from eight countries and 43 states to promote female advancement in the agribusiness and agricultural industries.

The Women in Agribusiness initiative dates back to 2012 when the first conference was held in New Orleans. At that time, the meeting brought together a little over 200 women in the agriculture industry to the conference. The 2½-day summit features panel discussions from leaders in the agriculture industry, breakout sessions covering a wide range of industry and business-strategy related topics as well as a number of networking and social gathering opportunities.

When promoting the summit, Event Director Joy O’Shaughnessy said, “With the opportunity in this forum for attendees to express their opinions, learn from others, and share best practices, we seek to support women’s advancement by demonstrating that they are knowledgeable experts in their industry. That does not need to focus on the fact that they are women, just the fact that success is attainable the more one ‘Knows Their Business Better.’ This Summit will be the conduit to knowledge, networking and know-how.”

Twenty-six percent of this year’s attendees were CEOs or top executives at their companies; 22 percent were department managers and 21 percent described themselves as non-management professionals. Other attendees included technical managers (5 percent), middle professionals (15 percent) and junior professionals (6 percent). The job functions of those in attendance included finance/risk management, sales, marketing and PR, operations and R&D. Next year’s summit will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 16-18, 2020.

Included in this year’s lineup of panel discussions and breakout sessions was a US state commissioners of agriculture panel. The panelists were Kate Greenberg, Colorado commissioner of agriculture; Celia Gould, Idaho director of agriculture; Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Virginia commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Service; and Kim Vanneman, South Dakota secretary of agriculture.

The first year a woman took on the role of commissioner in a state agriculture department was 1986. By 2014, there were six women serving in those roles and now there are 14 around the country.

Barbara Glenn, Ph.D., the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently said in an interview with the Women in Agribusiness Quarterly Journal, “These women public servants are critical messengers to sharing the story of our diverse agricultural system in the states. They are filling the gap to instill shared values about food and agriculture.”

In addition to sharing information about their states’ agricultural interests and how each commissioner’s role differs slightly from the other, the panelists shared how the ongoing trade roadblocks are causing challenges to many of their ag markets. Commissioner Bronaugh explained how the lack of trade to China is adversely affecting Virginia’s soybean market. She explained how Virginia’s soybean sales to China have gone from $683 million to $235 million to nothing this year.

“We are trying to find other markets for our crops,” she explained. Vietnam is one of the markets being considered.

Bronaugh, and the other commissioners expressed their hopes that the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) will soon be ratified so the Mexican and Canadian markets will be open to many of their state’s products. “If we ratify USMCA there will be so many ag opportunities that will open up for all our states.”