Alumni spotlight: Richard Barnes

1964, B.S. Agricultural Business Administration; 1969, M.A. Public Administration

Previous organization/employer: USDA - Foreign Affairs

Favorite memory of campus:

Membership in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and involvement in extracurricular activities on campus, which included working closely with international students participating in the foreign exchange program MAST International.  

Why did you choose CFANS as a college?

I was born and grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota. Initially I had not planned to attend university, but quickly the merits of higher education became evident, after having worked at jobs I would not have considered a fulfilling lifetime career opportunity! As a farm boy, I was interested in pursuing a career in some aspect of agriculture. The then-College of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics offered a wide variety of programs in agriculture, and the fit was ideal. 

Why do you think the University of Minnesota is great?

The University of Minnesota is internationally recognized as an outstanding academic institution, excelling in higher learning and research. Teaching staff are committed to providing students the tools to ensure success in their chosen careers. While the U of M is large, the St Paul campus in particular excels in fostering a sense of a small community where everyone counts and is located on such a beautiful campus.

Career information/ professional achievements:

My involvement with foreign exchange students in the MAST program ignited my interest in international affairs. The MAST program offered that opportunity, and in April 1964 I, along with four other U students, headed to Germany. That experience, living and working on a farm, being exposed to German culture, and learning the language opened up a new world for me. Returning to the United States after 1 ½ years abroad, I enrolled in a Master's program in public administration at the U. of M, in what is now the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. While studying, I also worked in the then-Office of the Dean of Students in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics where I was responsible for the new student orientation program and advising incoming pre-vet med students as well as students not yet settled on a specific career goal. It was during that time that I met my soon-to-be wife, who was working on a Master’s program in foods research. Shortly after graduating, I joined the United States Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), where I spent the next 28 years working to support U.S. agricultural interests abroad. Our primary missions were developing and expanding markets for U.S. agricultural products, reporting on overseas production, competition and market opportunities, and defending U.S. agricultural trade interests. Of the 28-years with FAS, some 21 were spent overseas in six countries (Venezuela, Spain, Peru, Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom), working in US Embassies.  We witnessed a lot of change: Franco’s death and an emerging democratic Spain while we were in Madrid. In Peru, we witnessed the end of a military dictatorship and a return to democracy. I was awarded by the Peruvian president, the “Orden del Merito Agricola” (Order of Agricultural Merit) for collaborating with Peru to ensure US agricultural product shipments continued during a severe economic crisis in the country, facilitating public and private projects to improve Peru’s agriculture and promoting trade between the USA and Peru. Following a five-year tour in Germany, I spent much of the next four years as Director of the Horticultural and Tropical Products Division in FAS, dealing with marketing, reporting and trade policy issues for related agricultural products.

 While all overseas assignments were interesting, the most professionally challenging and rewarding was the three years spent in Mexico working as the "on-site" USDA representative for negotiations on agricultural trade matters as a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico. I was in the UK when the “Mad Cow” crisis broke, and I spent years defending US-GMO products in the British marketplace. Other hot topics consuming considerable time were the US practice of using hormones as growth promoters for livestock as well as other sanitary and phytosanitary issues. In 1989 I was recipient of the J.O. Christianson International Agricultural Award from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental studies for achievements in agriculture as embodied in the MAST program.

After retirement from USDA, I continued to work in areas associated with international affairs, representing the US soybean industry in Brussels, responsible for Western Europe and North Africa, and working with a private voluntary organization in food aid programs in Moldova, Nigeria, Guinea Bissau and Congo. I also served as interim president of an organization representing the animal agriculture industry on animal welfare matters.

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?

Living and working overseas. Now retired, my wife and I still frequently travel to visit friends and explore new areas and cultures.   

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?

Participation in the MAST program shaped my life’s career and lasting interest in international affairs.