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Board Spotlight Q&A with Erin Heitkamp

This quarter, Ag Innovation News highlights one of its newest board members, Erin Heitkamp. In addition to her role on the Board of Directors, Heitkamp is also the senior vice president of impact at Pipeline Foods. Read on to learn more about her background and goals for the future.

Please tell our readers a little about your background.

EH: Currently, I’m Senior Vice President of Impact at Pipeline Foods. Immediately prior to joining Pipeline, I led the sustainability consulting practice at Wenck, an employee-owned Minnesota-based environmental consulting company. My years at Wenck were preceded by a nearly 15-year career at Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, during which I led the development and execution of environmental and sustainability policy and strategy and held positions in the areas of environmental regulatory oversight, fuel and fuel services purchasing, and corporate real estate.

AIN: How did you first hear about AURI?

EH: When I was at Wenck, I worked on a number of multi-stakeholder projects, including among them advanced alternative/biofuel projects, where AURI was frequently mentioned as a potential partner. Then, when I joined Pipeline Foods, it seemed every time I turned around someone was saying, “you have to get connected with AURI.”  

AIN: What are your goals as a new board member?

EH: As a new board member, my first goal is to get acquainted with the other board members, the staff, and the facilities and projects, so that I can contribute in an informed, meaningful way to the development of organizational strategy and project execution. AURI’s thirty years of success and future potential cannot be taught or visioned overnight, so I’m trying to be patient with myself!

AIN: What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by the food and agricultural ecosystems today?

EH: My entire career has been grounded in moving businesses and industries to more sustainable models. Without a doubt, agriculture and food can do better. Environmental pollution in the form of nutrient runoff is rendering unhealthy our waterways and drinking water and posing unacceptable health and welfare risks and losses. We know which farming practices reverse these trends. We just need to find ways to support farmers in adopting them.  

AIN: Which agribusiness-related issues are most important to you?

EH: Facilitating transparency and integrity across the entire food supply chain is paramount to meeting consumer demand for information about how, where and when food is grown, transported, stored, processed and packaged. In supporting increased supply chain transparency and integrity, we give the farmers who grow our food visibility and credit for their hard work, an opportunity to realize incentives for farming more sustainably, and the potential for more equitable value sharing across the value chain.

AIN: How can Minnesota best support its food innovation industry?

EH: Minnesota can do more of what AURI does every day.  In providing expertise, testing facilities, and financial and partner resources, AURI is meeting a critical need. In my experience, it is a bit of unicorn in that it is state funded, very commercially-oriented, and highly networked to meet stakeholder needs. 

I would love to see more investment in facilities like the new Ag Innovation Campus that will be constructed in Crookston – facilities that serve the triple purpose of research, education and processing capacity to fill the infrastructure gap between proof of concept and commercial scale production. 

AIN: What do you want to achieve  as a new board member?

EH: As a member of the leadership team of a young, innovative, sustainable supply chain and food ingredient company, I closely follow trends and successes in the food and agriculture industries. I’m also very well networked in the regenerative and organic space and have an extensive background in advanced biofuels. As an AURI board member, I will work to bring those areas of expertise and relationships to bear to evolve and support the AURI mission.