Meet Arizona Agriculture's McDonald Family

By Justen Ollendick, Arizona Farm Bureau Intern: The McDonald Family of Graham, Pinal, and Maricopa counties have dedicated their entire lives to serving those who are looking for an opportunity to grow themselves as young agriculturalists and individuals. You can find Sandy and her son, JC, lambing ewes during pre-show seasons, and standing ringside to support those 4-H and FFA youth that purchase their livestock. The McDonald Family is a true example of servant leadership, the basis of our membership.

The McDonald family was drawn to agriculture because of family, a love of the outdoors and so much more. 

An interview with Sandy & JC McDonald - Willcox, Arizona

Part of an ongoing series about Arizona Farming and Ranching families.

Tell us about your farm, ranch, or agribusiness operation(s): Back when John and I lived in Scottsdale, we had 8 pairs of registered Hereford cows that could not be kept on the irrigated acre in north Scottsdale. We purchased 40 acres and leased 40 more in south Queen Creek. Our family started farming Alfalfa in Pinal County in 1995. A few years later, John and I started to think about retiring and what we wanted to do. Ranching was an idea that appealed to us more than irrigating and raising cattle in the valley, and enduring the summer heat. We knew that we wanted to live at a higher elevation so we would be cooler…if even it was only 10 degrees cooler in the summer. We then purchased our current home, Northern View Ranch at the foot of the Galliero Mountains.

Why did you choose to go into agriculture? The love of the land and outdoors. Watching our livestock, or a new crop grow is a feeling that cannot be explained. It is a feeling that God has given us all. The need for open spaces is in all of us. People in cities and town flock to golf courses to see the uncluttered view of the outdoors, we have the luxury of having that view from our front porch. I (Sandy) currently work for the USDA/NASS.

What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming, ranching, or agribusiness? A typical farm or ranch 50 years ago produced a wider variety of commodities than those operating at the end of the century. Farm operators and the country’s population were much more self-sufficient years ago. Farms and ranches are now much more specialized, with a small number of operators producing the majority of agricultural products consumed today.

Will anyone in your family - younger generation - pursue farming, ranching, or agribusiness? John and Sandy’s son JC: I have learned a lot about agriculture over the past twenty four years. The wide range of livestock I have raised and their unique range of needs, have given me a glimpse of how they can complement each other.  I now have 30 cows calving on the range, I have to be aware of the predators on the range and pay closer attention to first-calving heifers. The 40 ewes need protection from the cold when lambing, to keep the babies from freezing and dying.  The pigs do best farrowing in the spring or fall, in more even temperatures.  One of the most important things I have learned in breeding and raising animals is to protect their babies, which is where you find your work to pay off.  If your calves, lambs, or piglets die, that cuts into the bottom line.

My family was very involved in 4-H when I was a toddler. I lived to be outside with the animals. I didn’t play with toys if they weren’t farm related. (no Hot Wheels for me). I showed open at the Arizona State Fair before I was a 4-H’er.

My first memories of U of A was at the farm following the big kids around on Judging Day. I knew I wanted to go to college there. My dad worked at Arizona State University and my 4 brothers and sisters all graduated from ASU.  I could hold my own rooting for U of A over a houseful of ASU graduates.

The FFA bug bit me in high school, when I was one of the top 4 Greenhands in Arizona. I was very involved in the Willcox FFA chapter, having a successful Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) all through high school.

The importance of good records and bookkeeping was one of the most important parts of the program. No agricultural endeavor can be successful without them. I was able to buy my first ranch from my parents and with the help of the Farm Service Agency right after high school.

The FFA program is designed to show the values and attitudes of successful leaders. FFA helps kids to identify their potential and develop a sense of purpose and responsibility.  In leadership workshops I have learned some essential skills of team building, creative thinking and conflict resolution. FFA gave me a great amount of experience in developing my organizational along with leadership skills.

The experience of college did broaden my practical education, and enhance it with more in-depth view of the expanding animal husbandry practices available to today’s producer. I attended Central Arizona Community College as a full time agricultural student after graduating from Willcox High School.  Completing my 2 years at Central Arizona Community College I then attended the University of Arizona. I studied Rangeland Management and worked for NRCS in the prior summers. This experience helped me get a part-time job with Arizona Natural Resources Conservation District while attending classes at the University. Working outdoors was the way I knew I wanted to spend my life’s work. Helping people help the land.

What are your community activities? Scottsdale back in the 1950s was a farming community. I played as a child along the open irrigation ditches throughout the town. I was always going over to Schroders Dairy on Indian school road and Zimmerman Dairy on Miller.  This was back in the day when 5-6 year old kids could explore their world. I saw a 4-H flag in the school office in Kindergarten. It was explained to me that 4-H was the kids club for animals. I was determined to be part of it (I had to wait until I was 10 back then). 4-H has been a big part of my life. I had my 1st 4-H Club back when I was 22 years old, along with Bobby Lewis of Zimmerman’s Dairy family. John and I had a large 4-H club in northern Scottsdale. We were on both horse and livestock committees along with serving as leader and on camp committees. We had a 4-H club in Pinal County when we moved to the south side of Queen Creek before retiring to Willcox and our home at Northern View Ranch. 

What do you enjoy doing? Ranching, Hunting, Camping and fishing Spending time with new 4-Her’s helping them with their fair projects. 4-H is more that “Cows and Cooking”. We like to encourage youngsters to spread their wings and explore the possibilities around them.

Why are you a farm bureau member? Farm Bureau is the voice for farmers and ranchers not only in Arizona but throughout the United States. Being a member is a way to put your support behind the farms and ranches, which produce your family’s food. The membership dollars are used in a lot of educational programs and events. They’re a voice for Ag.

How will the next generation of agribusiness leaders have to operate? Smarter not harder. The new innovations in the Ag industry have helped producers produce more effectivity. Of course, along with this is the expensive land and equipment to keep production up, make a living and not break the bank.

In Arizona in some areas land can produce 2 to 3 crops a year. Effective uses of water conservation practices, Care for the land and Water are the first a most important concern.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given and/or experience? Or, what business-oriented advice would you give young farmers/beginning farmers? “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer.” ~Will Rogers.  Agriculture and the roles of people involved in farming, particularly women and new farmers, are changing.  Make sure you are doing what you love. Anyone can get a job, being excited about your job is the challenge. Make the Best Better, and leave the world a better place for the generations to come.

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