Robynne Anderson, president of Emerging Ag Inc., and one of the three 2017 inductees into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, believes this year symbolizes the start of a new era for women in the agriculture industry. This is because for the first time in Canada’s history, all three Agricultural Hall of Fame inductees are women.
Out of over 210 inductees currently in the Hall of Fame, only five are women.
“The selection committee said they did not make this decision consciously, that we were simply the best candidates out of the applicants they had this year,” says Anderson. “Over the years, we’ve seen greater participation from women in the industry, and I think this year’s selection means our time has come.”
With an impressive career in agricultural consulting and media spanning two and a half decades, Robynne Anderson is a true industry innovator who is well-deserving of this honour. Her drive, intelligence and passion for agriculture have gotten her where she is today.
Anderson’s love for agriculture took root during her childhood. She grew up on her family’s seed farm near Dugald, Man., which was managed by her father, while her mother worked in community and public relations.
“I knew I wanted my life’s work to combine both of my parents’ work,” she says. “I wanted to help people in agriculture tell their stories.”
Anderson has successfully combined agriculture with communications and public relations, and has represented farmers in Canada and on the world stage.
“One of the most exciting things I get to do is work with people who actually grow things, who produce something in a very visceral way,” she says. “There’s a lot of dissociation from the fundamentals of life in the modern world. Farmers are truly the people who make it happen. What could be better than supporting them?”
Connecting with CAAR
In her early 20s, a time when many people are still contemplating their future career path, Anderson created her first company, Issues Ink, an agricultural media consulting business. One of the first contracts her new company took on was publishing The Communicator, an experience she says was formative for her career.
I’m so grateful to CAAR for the role they played in my early career. The association took a big chance on me.
“I’m so grateful to CAAR for the role they played in my early career,” she says. “The association took a big chance on me and gave me the opportunity to take the magazine in a very different direction, and move it from an in-house publication to an out-sourced publication.”
At Issues Ink, Anderson worked with Delaney Ross Burtnack, former president and CEO of CAAR and current executive director of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association. Writing and editing for The Communicator at Issues Ink was Burtnack’s first job out of university.
“I had a strong science background and some writing skill, but it was under Robynne’s tutelage that I truly learned to be a writer and editor,” says Burtnack. “Robynne regularly brought forward new ideas for The Communicator and the other magazines we published. I remember our editorial meetings where she rallied the team to push the boundaries of content and insight for our readership.”
According to Burtnack, working with Anderson had a lasting impact on her career, especially when it came to developing her leadership skills.
Robynne had a keen eye for detail, was highly organized, hired great people and regularly challenged herself and her team to meet and exceed the bar we strived toward. The skills and best practices I learned under her leadership are things I still use today.
“Robynne had a keen eye for detail, was highly organized, hired great people and regularly challenged herself and her team to meet and exceed the bar we strived toward,” she says. “The skills and best practices I learned under her leadership are things I still use today.”
Burtnack is just one of many women Anderson has mentored and inspired throughout her career. According to Anderson, this mentorship of other women was one of the reasons she was nominated
for induction into the Hall of Fame.
“I was pleasantly surprised to hear that, because I hadn’t thought of mentoring other women as something noteworthy; it’s just something I’ve always done and something I’ve always been passionate about,” she says.
“I’m so very proud of Delaney for everything she’s accomplished and the leadership roles she’s taken on,” she adds. “It’s been really fun to watch all the bright, talented folks I’ve worked with, mentored and coached, achieve success.”
Even when she wasn’t mentoring other women directly, Anderson’s leadership by example made waves throughout the industry.
Al Raine, a past CAAR president, past board member and long-time CAAR supporter, says Anderson was very visible in the industry with her work on The Communicator, her presence at the CAAR Conference and running her own successful business.
“She helped a lot of younger women coming into the industry see that there were more than just sales jobs available to them; there were many opportunities for them in the ag sector,” he says.
Working in the sometimes-challenging position of being a woman in a male-dominated sector, Anderson met the challenge with confidence, drive and belief in her ideas.
“One thing I will always remember about Robynne – if she had an idea or if she disagreed with you, she was definitely not afraid to express her opinion on how she thought it should be done,” says Raine. “I always admired that in her. There was always mutual respect between us, and I always appreciated that she would speak her mind.”
According to Raine, Anderson’s leadership wasn’t just important for women. He credits her with highlighting the diversity of positions in the industry to both men and women alike.
“She found ways to make ag popular and more of a cool career to get into,” says Raine. “She helped open people’s eyes and made them more aware of the wide variety of careers in agriculture, especially opportunities in marketing, including advertising and public relations.”
The Emerging Future
After 18 years of leading her team at Issues Ink and growing the business to new levels, Anderson sold the company and entered into semi-retirement. With the sale of a successful company behind her, she could have made a permanent exit from the industry, but that wouldn’t be her way.
She saw more work that needed to be done, so in 2010, Anderson created her second company, Emerging Ag Inc., which provides consulting and communications services to international clients in the food, health and agriculture sectors.
Emerging Ag provides secretariat services to the International Agri-Food Network, elected at the annual meeting of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security in Rome. Emerging Ag has also worked closely with the Global Pulse Confederation, and helped successfully advocate to have 2016 declared the International Year of Pulses by the United Nations.
“It’s been a great delight for me to have had two different businesses,” says Anderson. “Each has had its own culture, and each has provided a platform to assist with the advancement of agriculture and food. Both businesses have been almost like my children.”
Throughout her years working with the United Nations to draft agriculture and food policies, Anderson has always advocated for the best interests of Canadian agriculture.
“Robynne has been a force in agriculture throughout her career,” says Burtnack. “She has passionately effected positive change at a regional, national and international level, to the benefit of the Canadian sector.”
As new international markets emerge and develop, Anderson says Canadian agriculture may see significant changes on the world stage in the years to come.
“We have a growing set of competitors which will have an impact on the markets Canada has grown accustomed to serving,” she says.
To adjust to this changing international landscape, Anderson says we must focus on selling Canadian food and products to Canadians.
“Why shouldn’t a Canadian want to have Canadian oatmeal in the morning? Why aren’t Canadians thinking about bread that specifically comes from our wheat?” she asks.
“I really think there is an opportunity to talk amongst ourselves and promote Canadian products.”
Telling Our Story
To advocate for Canadian agriculture at home, Anderson believes we must talk about agriculture as a positive story to our fellow Canadians.
“Until we band together and get more thoughtful and proactive about telling our story, we’re going to see some challenges,” she says. “We’re far too passive about sitting back and letting others say things like, ‘Applying fertilizer and using biotechnology is a bad idea,’ when we know that’s not true.”
Anderson says changing the conversation will be a challenge, but it is one she believes retailers have a role in overcoming. Because of their hands-on experience with the evolving technology in agriculture, retailers are in a position where they have valuable knowledge to share, and the evidence to back it up.
“Canada has an incredible record when it comes to no-till and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” she says. “Canadian cereal production is now greenhouse gas neutral. But we don’t talk about that.”
This is an example of the kind of specific, positive outcome Anderson says the industry needs to share with the public. She also adds that just sharing the message won’t be enough – the key will be how it is said.
“We need to tell our side of the story, but simply saying, ‘The agriculture industry uses biotech,’ isn’t going to convince anyone of anything,” she says.
“But saying, ‘Canadian ag is helping the planet by producing greenhouse gas-neutral crops, and we can do this because of the biotechnology and equipment we use,’ now there is a story we can sell.”
This is just another example of Anderson looking out for the best interests of Canadian agriculture. Her courage to take on big challenges and her drive to succeed have made her an innovator throughout her career, and now, she’s established her place among the greats.
Visit www.cahfa.com/en-us/nominations to submit a nomination to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.
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