Q&A With Krysta Harden
Until March of 2016, Krysta Harden was serving as the USDA’s #2 – she was deputy secretary of the USDA. Harden, who grew up on a peanut farm in southwest Georgia, had been in that role since August of 2013.
She’d gone to Capitol Hill immediately after graduating from the University of Georgia and quickly developed a passion for public service and fighting for what mattered to her family back on the farm. She relished the opportunity to represent American farmers worldwide and encountered many, many passionate growers that relied on the USDA’s programs in her tenure.
For the first time in her life, Harden has found herself working for a corporation, DuPont, in the private sector—but that certainly doesn’t mean she’s giving up all of the agriculture initiatives she loves.
SF: What made you choose to go from the public to the private side of agriculture?
KH: It wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. It’s a very serious move at this point in my career. I wanted to do something that carried on the commitments and elements of my career that have been very important to me including service and working in agriculture. Working with women in agriculture and making sure women’s voices are heard at the leadership level are two things that I feel very passionately about. Joining a company that would allow me to continue to do that was important.
I was looking for a company that had a strong ethic that worked with farmers and considered them partners, which was one of many things I saw in DuPont that was very attractive. It helped me know that the transition could be easy, which is important, too. I had been in the public sector a long time, and I knew it could be difficult if I didn’t make the right choice.
SF: How can farmers be reassured that the mergers and acquisitions happening within the agriculture industry will benefit them?
KH: Everyone has questions about consolidation, which I understand. I’m the daughter of a farmer, so making sure there’s good competition is important to me. But our farmers are also consolidating, and I think they have to realize that, as well. When someone dies or doesn’t come back to the farm, often the neighbor is renting their land, and they’re getting bigger. It’s something that’s happening in agriculture at all levels, which is something we might need to think about.
I am convinced that there will be good service for farmers, good competition, robust investments in research and innovation, and I think that’s what farmers really care about – making sure they still have those choices and that the investment is being made in key areas like innovation, science, and research.
SF: What do you think is the biggest problem facing agriculture today?
KH: I don’t know if there’s just one, but there are a couple things that farmers always have to think about. One of those is Mother Nature and another is the hungry mouths we’re going to have. Another challenge would be helping the rest of the world understand what farmers do. We don’t tell our story enough. We talk to ourselves a lot.
Farmers are very humble people. They’re proud, they’re quiet, and they don’t go boasting about what they’re doing. We need to make sure their stories are being told, so the general public recognizes the sacrifice that farmers make, the very tight margins they have many years, the impact of Mother Nature, and of markets that are so much out of their control. I think about my own daddy all the time and how hard he works, how much he has given, how devoted he is to being a good steward and to serving others. I think all of us in agriculture need to think about helping the public understand that.
Name: Krysta Harden
Title: Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer at DuPont
Hometown: Camilla, Georgia