Annual Convention – Speakers admin November 6, 2023
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127th Annual Convention Speakers

Rostin Behnam, Chairman, Commodity Futures Trading Commission
A Conversation with CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam
Chairman Behnam will sit down with NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert to have a conversation about the current state of the markets.

Rostin Behnam is the CFTC’s 15th Chairman. He previously served as CFTC Commissioner beginning September, 2017, and as Acting Chairman.  Chairman Behnam’s arrival at the CFTC followed extensive experiences in financial markets policy. As Senior Counsel to Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, his major responsibilities included the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act and related policy matters affecting the Treasury Department, the U.S. prudential regulators, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Prior to his work in the U.S. Senate, Chairman Behnam held positions in financial markets and financial market regulation and compliance, including as a proprietary equities trader, an investigator at the N.J. Bureau of Securities, within the State’s Office of the Attorney General, and in private practice.

Chairman Behnam received his A.B. from Georgetown University and law degree from the Syracuse University College of Law.  Chairman Behnam lives in Baltimore with his wife and three daughters.

Closing General Session

Curt Blades, Senior Vice President, Agriculture Service & Forestry, Association of Equipment Manufacturers
The Future of Food Production

Curt Blades joined the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) in 2017, having worked in agriculture industry in marketing, business development, and leadership roles for the previous twenty years. As Senior Vice President of Agriculture Services & Forestry, Blades is responsible for the strategic direction of agriculture programs and services for AEM members. In addition, he oversees the organization’s Safety & Product Leadership group—including leading AEM’s sustainability efforts. In these roles, he serves as primary liaison with ag-specific industry organizations, customer groups, and government agencies worldwide. 

Blades grew up on his family’s multi-generational farm in Shelbina, Missouri where he developed a passion for serving the agriculture industry. He brings both high-level and on-the-ground perspective to agricultural issues and is a proud alumnus of the University of Missouri.

Closing General Session

Erin Condon, Director of Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, CGB, Enterprises Inc.
PANEL | How Consumer Preferences on Sustainability and Diversity are Shaping Your Business
This panel will take an in-depth and multi-faceted look at how consumer behavior and preferences affect the food and ag value chain.

Erin Condon is the Director of Culture, Diversity and Inclusion at CGB, Enterprises, Inc.  Erin oversees CGB’s women’s mentoring program, Lead Retain Grow, now in its 8th year.  Most recently, Erin and others developed a mentorship program for employees from underrepresented groups – LIFT (Leveraging Inclusion by Fostering Talent).  There is excellent momentum in this program that identifies high potential candidates and engages the organization in their professional growth.  Her passion for professional development began when she served as a Facilitator in CGB’s Learning team, delivering a wide catalogue of training including leadership, employee development, sales, and presentation skills. 

Prior to CGB, Erin’s agricultural background began in crop insurance in 2010.  As AgriLogic grew over 7 years from $10M to $237M in premium, Erin served as Director of Marketing, then the Director of Operations, and finally as the Chief of Sales and Marketing.  She was heavily involved in AgriLogic’s federal compliance, reinsurance relationships and business retention efforts.  Erin has served on the Board of Kids Matter International, the Notre Dame Club of Dallas Leadership team, as well as a member of Dallas’ Young Leaders Council.  Today, she is a Chair for the Junior League in Tallahassee, serving at the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.  Erin graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in Marketing and a B.A. in Psychology.  She later received her Core of Credential Readiness in Finance, Economics, and Business Analytics from Harvard University, and is currently taking courses at Cornell University to receive a Certificate in DEI. 

Opening General Session

Thomas Heinold, Operations Division Chief, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District
The State of our Navigation Infrastructure
Tom Heinold of the Corps of Engineers will describe the impact of our waterways on the economy and what we’re doing to keep these aging waterborne highways safe, efficient, and reliable.

Heinold serves as the Chief of Operations Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District. He is responsible for approximately 550 employees at multiple locations across the District, including 12 lock and dam sites on the Mississippi River, 6 lock and dam sites on the Illinois Waterway, and five flood control reservoirs in Iowa and Illinois. He also served as the Acting Director of the Corps of Engineers’ Inland Navigation Design Center from February through October 2022.

Heinold started his Army career in 1988 and was commissioned as an Engineer Officer with the Corps of Engineers in 1992. His first assignment with the Rock Island District occurred in 1998, and since that time he has served in both military and civilian roles throughout the District. While on active duty with the Corps, Heinold was assigned to overseas contingency operations in Germany, Korea, Kosovo and Iraq. As a civilian for the Rock Island District, he served as the Lead Flood Area Engineer for the Des Moines, Iowa area and he deployed in support of emergency response missions following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Superstorm Sandy.

Transportation Open Forum

Megan Rock, Chief Sustainability Officer, CHS Inc.
PANEL | How Consumer Preferences on Sustainability and Diversity are Shaping Your Business

This panel will take an in-depth and multi-faceted look at how consumer behavior and preferences affect the food and ag value chain.

Megan Rock is vice president of sustainability and innovation and Chief Sustainability Officer at CHS, the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and an agronomy, global energy, grains and food company.

In 2022, Rock joined CHS as the company’s first Chief Sustainability Officer. Prior to CHS, she served as VP of corporate responsibility and sustainability and global lead of sustainability solutions at Bunge, Inc., and held sustainability and environmental management positions in government and banking.In her new role, Rock will lead CHS efforts to develop and execute sustainability and innovation strategies across its $48 billion enterprise.Rock holds a bachelor of science degree in soil, environmental and atmospheric science from the University of Missouri and a graduate certificate in advanced studies in environmental policy and management from the University of Denver. 

Rock has served on the board of directors for Field to Market and Ag Future of America. In 2015, she received the Changemaker of Tomorrow award from Keep Akron (Ohio) Beautiful, and she is a member of the St. Louis Business Journal’s 40 under 40 class of 2020. She lives in St. Louis with her three children and two French bulldogs.

Opening General Session

Donnie Smith, Chairman and CEO, Foster Farms
Industry Keynote Address

Donnie Smith’s passion for leadership has been the hallmark of his near 4-decade career in the food business. As president and CEO of Tyson Foods from 2009 to 2016, he led the company to focus on feeding the world great, affordable food, while also making a positive difference in people’s lives. Under his leadership, Tyson Foods achieved four straight years of record profits, multiplying stock value six times in seven years.

Throughout his 36-year career at Tyson, Donnie worked to learn every aspect of the business. He joined the company in 1980, working in poultry operations. In 1987 he moved to the company’s headquarters in Springdale, AR, as a commodity buyer and during the next several years added complementary responsibilities to his management portfolio: logistics, purchasing, information systems, engineering, food safety and quality assurance, and environmental health and safety. He moved into the company’s consumer products division in 2008 and was named senior group vice president of poultry and prepared foods in early 2009, the same year he was appointed as president and CEO. 

Donnie came out of retirement in June of 2022 to become the CEO of Foster Farms. He is committed to honoring the legacy that the Foster family has built over the past 8 decades, and is excited to drive operational, environmental, and financial success while building a culture no one wants to walk away from.

Donnie and his wife, Terry, are dedicated philanthropists focusing on 4 areas: Feeding the hungry, helping the poor, caring for children at risk, and leadership development. Among their pursuits was establishing the Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Tennessee and their foundation, the African Sustainable Agriculture Project though which they work to bring science-based, agricultural solutions to developing areas of the world with struggling agricultural practices and economies.

Closing  General Session

Michelle Schultz, Board Member, Surface Transportation Board
STB Update

STB board member Michelle Schultz will provide an update on the board’s rail proceedings and other actions.

Michelle Schultz was sworn in on January 11, 2021, as a new member of the Surface Transportation Board. Michelle was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 18, 2020. Michelle served as Vice Chairman of the Board from February 2022 to January 2023.

For the previous 14 years, Michelle served in various leadership roles with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which serves the public transportation needs of over one million daily riders in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. She is regarded as a leading lawyer and policy professional in the public transportation space. Most recently, Michelle served as SEPTA’s Deputy General Counsel, where her responsibilities included: representing the agency before the Federal Railroad Administration and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission; serving as lead counsel on a major railroad reconstruction project; overseeing compliance, regulatory, and legislative issues; and, serving as lead counsel on real estate transactions and contract negotiations.

Transportation Open Forum

David Wasserman, Senior Election Analyst, The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter and NBC Contributor

2022 Mid-Term Election Analysis
David will offer his post-election analysis of the 2022 mid-term elections and what it means for the presidential and congressional races in 2024.

David Wasserman is the Senior Election Analyst for the non-partisan newsletter, The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, and a contributor to NBC News. Founded in 1984, The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter provides analyses of U.S. presidential, Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. The New York Times called The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter “a newsletter that both parties regard as authoritative. Wasserman has served as an analyst for the NBC News Election Night Decision Desk since 2008 and has also appeared on Fox News, CNN, and NPR. His commentary has been cited in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, POLITICO, and the Washington Post.

Prior to joining the The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter in 2007, Wasserman served for three years as House editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a widely respected political analysis newsletter and website founded by renowned University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato. A native of New Jersey, Wasserman is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he was awarded the 2006 Emmerich-Wright Outstanding Thesis prize.

Closing General Session

Tom Wilcox, Attorney
A Discussion on STB’s New Final Offer Rate Review Rule

Tom will discuss the Surface Transportation Board’s new Final Offer Rate Review (FORR) rule that provides shippers with a less expensive and more timely method to challenge unreasonable rail rates.

Tom Wilcox has represented rail shippers, short line railroads, and other users of the freight railroad system for over 30 years, and in that time has acquired broad regulatory, transactional and litigation expertise in practically all modes of transporta­tion, specializing in the area of representing users of freight railroad transportation. Chambers USA has consistently ranked Tom as one of the top leading lawyers nationwide who represent shippers in rail transportation matters. Tom was also selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2020 and 2021 in the field of Transportation Law, and was named to the 2020 Washington, DC Super Lawyers list for Transportation/Maritime.

He has repre­sented clients on matters before all Federal agencies with jurisdiction over transportation and transporta­tion-related issues, including the Surface Transportation Board, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Transportation Open Forum

Steve Wittbecker, Chief Sustainability Officer, CoBank
PANEL | How Consumer Preferences on Sustainability and Diversity are Shaping Your Business

This panel will take an in-depth and multi-faceted look at how consumer behavior and preferences affect the food and ag value chain.

Steven Wittbecker is CoBank’s Chief Sustainability Officer. In this role, Mr. Wittbecker is responsible for leading CoBank’s long-term strategy, development and execution of its Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) policies and practices.

Prior to this role, Mr. Wittbecker served as CoBank’s Chief Audit Officer for 10 years, overseeing the bank’s internal audit and asset review functions and working collaboratively with functional leaders across the enterprise. He joined CoBank in 2011, after serving as a Director in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Risk Assurance practice for over eight years.

Mr. Wittbecker has a BS in Chemistry and a BBA in management information systems from the University of Iowa. He has over 22 years of public accounting, consulting and internal audit experience.

Opening General Session