July 15, 2024

Faith, family and the FFA: McKinney honored with Friend of Farmer award

Dave Blower, news and media relations manager of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Corn Growers Association, points out the artwork created by Gary Varvel, former editorial cartoonist for The Indianapolis Star, depicting Ted McKinney (left) in a Purdue Boilermakers tie and iconic FFA blue jacket and recognizing his efforts to promote global exports as the U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

HOUSTON — Ted McKinney has had many titles throughout his lengthy career in agriculture.

Now he can officially add “Friend of Farmer” to that list.

The Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance Membership & Policy Committee presented McKinney with the 2023 Friend of Farmer award at the recent Commodity Classic in Houston.

“Those who go into public service know that you got to do it because it’s the right thing to do, not for anything else,” he said.

Joe Stoller, Indiana Soybean Alliance Membership & Policy Committee chair, said the farmer leaders did not make the choice lightly.

“But the decision to award Ted McKinney as Indiana’s Friend of the Farmer was easy when considering his contributions to Indiana agriculture over the years,” he said.

Now the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, McKinney previously was the U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

He served as director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture from 2014 to 2017.

His career includes 19 years with Dow AgroSciences, where he worked in government and public affairs roles, and 14 years with Elanco, at the time a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company, where he was director of global corporate affairs.

“Ted has always had an eye on the needs of Indiana’s farmers,” said Chris Cherry, Indiana Corn Growers Association president.

Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, receives the Friend of Farmer award from Joe Stoller (left), Indiana Soybean Alliance Membership & Policy Committee chair, and Chris Cherry (right), Indiana Corn Growers Association president, at the Commodity Classic in Houston.

McKinney grew up on a family grain and livestock farm in Tipton County and was a 10-year 4-H member.

The Indiana FFA northern region vice president from 1977 to 1978, he received a FFA Honorary American degree in 2004.

McKinney graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics in 1981, when he was the recipient of the G.A. Ross Award for most outstanding senior male graduate. He was named a Purdue Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus in 2002.

“You can’t help but fall in love with ag when you grow up on a farm, and you have the joys of parents that nurtured the farm, but also let us try things — football, 4-H and FFA,” he said. “So, there was never a question about whether agriculture was going to be in my future.”

But there was a pivot point.

“As a senior at Purdue, I had a wonderful offer from Procter & Gamble, which is one of the best companies out there in training, managerial types,” McKinney recalled. “But at the end of the day, I couldn’t leave this thing called agriculture. And so the roots are very deep and very strong.”

McKinney said he has been led by a divine hand.

“Growing up with a Christian faith, the golden rule is not a bad rule to follow,” he said. “I would throw in there that the 4-H and FFA mottos and creeds have meant a lot. Those are pretty good guides.

“And then through development experiences, the Greenleaf principles of servant leadership meant a lot and teach you to do things, but be humble.”

He even applied those lessons while negotiating the historic “phase one” trade deal with China and successfully shutting down anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed by Peru.

“I’ve told many people that the core skills of negotiating through that are from 4-H and FFA, from high school and the college campus,” he said.

“Clearly, you got to know the trade, you got to know what you’re negotiating, but the skills of a smile, a handshake, showing empathy, intense listening, you get in a group like FFA.”

James Henry

James Henry

Executive Editor