As president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Krysta Harden leverages experience with agriculture, sustainability, food policy and the federal government to help fulfill USDEC’s mission to promote dairy exports and enrich the well-being of people, communities, and the planet.
In February 2021, Harden became the third president and CEO to lead USDEC since its founding by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) in 1995. She is the first woman to lead the organization. Harden succeeds former USDEC President and CEO Tom Vilsack, who was confirmed in February 2021 as U.S. Agriculture Secretary in the Biden-Harris administration.
At USDEC, Harden directs a staff of dairy trade specialists, trade policy professionals, a global marketing team and a strategy and insights team. In addition, she oversees eight international offices working to facilitate dairy product and ingredient application knowledge, identify market opportunities, monitor regulatory activity and work toward improving the business climate for U.S. Dairy.
Working together and with its member companies, USDEC facilitates dairy product and ingredient application, identifies market opportunities, monitors regulatory activity and makes the case that U.S. dairy exports should compete on a level playing field with sound trade policy.
In 2020, the U.S. exported more than two million tons of dairy solids – an all-time record. With expanded support from state and regional dairy organizations, USDEC put more people, promotions, and partnerships to work for U.S. dairy producers and processors. A focus on meeting international customer needs helped the industry grow and diversify as a supplier of choice in global markets.
Harden plans to be active in global organizations, including the World Economic Forum, Global Child Nutrition Foundation, and the upcoming U.N. World Food Systems Summit.
Prior to taking the top spot at USDEC, Harden served dual roles as USDEC’s chief operating officer and DMI’s executive vice-president of global environmental strategy. DMI manages the dairy checkoff for 34,000 dairy farmers.
Harden helped develop and launch The Net Zero Initiative, an industry-wide effort that will help U.S. dairy farms of all sizes and geographies implement new technologies and adopt economically viable practices. The initiative aims to achieve carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality by 2050.
Before joining DMI, Harden served as Chief Sustainability Officer with Corteva and DuPont. Harden also spent seven years working with Vilsack at USDA, nearly three of those years as deputy secretary, following posts as Vilsack’s USDA chief of staff and assistant secretary for Congressional relations. At USDA, Harden helped shape agriculture policy and led the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill.
Prior to joining USDA, Harden was CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts, providing national leadership for thousands of conservation districts across the nation. Preceding her service at USDA, Harden was CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts for five years, providing national leadership for natural resource conservation and representing thousands of conservation districts across the nation.
She also worked with the American Soybean Association as senior vice president of Gordley Associates where she concentrated on conservation and renewable energy issues. She also spent 12 years on Capitol Hill as staff director for the House subcommittee on peanuts and tobacco, and as chief of staff and press secretary for former Congressman Charles Hatcher.
Throughout her career in agriculture, Harden has focused on expanding opportunity for women, young people, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees, among others. She serves as vice-chair of the National 4-H Council Board of Trustees and is a member of the board of directors for the Global Child Nutrition Foundation.
Harden received her B.A. in journalism from the University of Georgia in 1981. Harden and her husband, Charles Hatcher, live in Alexandria, Va.