With a master’s in environmental science from Washington State University, Apache County Farm Bureau President Hayley Andrus can explain firsthand the importance of being grounded in grassroots membership organizations. She’s living it.
Mother of five girls ranging in age from 14 to three years of age, Andrus is partnered with her husband, Milo, in running a cow/calf operation in Northeastern Arizona, in addition to their mobile large-animal veterinarian practice.
Their days are full, to say the least. But Andrus's commitment to Apache County Farm Bureau came about with the recognition that the mission of Farm Bureau is critically important to production agriculture and the farmers and ranchers represented. Because everyone’s lives are so busy, Andrus’ leadership goals reflect an effort to make every volunteer minute count.
Here's how she does it.
Arizona Agriculture: Tell us about your businesses (ranch and Vet practice).
Andrus: We run a cow/calf operation in Northeastern Arizona. We winter most of our cattle around the small town of Concho, and summer on a forest permit outside of Show Low. Our Vet business is a mobile large animal practice.
When considering their day-to-day, Hayley and Milo Andrus want their family to be an integral part of their ranching business. They have five girls ranging from 14 to three years in age. They have all been on horseback since they were young. As a result, the Andrus girls are learning valuable lessons on the ranch including the nuts and bolts of the business.
Arizona Agriculture: What inspired you and your husband to get into ranching in Arizona and share a bit about your family’s ag history?
Andrus: Our family is new to Arizona; we’ve been here just over eight years. After we finished graduate school at Washington State University (WSU) (Go Cougs!) we moved to western Wyoming for a couple of reasons. First, the veterinarian practice was a mixed animal practice where Milo could gain experience with several species. Secondly, it was only a couple of hours from Milo’s family’s ranch in Southeast Idaho.
For the next 5 years, we spent all our days off in Idaho working on the ranch. I grew up on a farm and ranch in central Utah and spent my college summers range riding in Colorado, so the idea of making our living in agriculture was a dream Milo and I both shared. Milo’s family unexpectedly sold a large chunk of their ranch in Idaho, and we started searching the western U.S. for places to re-invest in ranching. That search led us to Apache County, Arizona.
It has been a steep but rewarding learning curve for the past 8 years. We feel blessed and fortunate that his family decided to re-invest in agriculture and that they were willing to let us take the lead here in Arizona.
As a side note, it has been a bit of a homecoming for me, my paternal grandparents grew up in Taylor. My father was born in Winslow. I have really enjoyed being here having grown up listening to stories of this area.
Arizona Agriculture: Regarding your agriculture businesses, what have you brought to the operation that’s different from the recent past, specifically as it relates to management and the whole scope of your day-to-day?
Andrus: First, we have a much more intensive management style than in the recent past. For the first three years, all we did was fence, fence and fence. We wanted to be able to have more intensive rotational grazing and that took putting up miles and miles of neglected cross fences and building new fences. I think the next three years (and then some) we’ve buried and laid miles of water lines from existing and new solar-powered wells. This effort has paid dividends, after the extreme drought in the last 3 years we have cut our herd numbers, but we are still in business.
Without the rotational grazing and the water development, we most likely couldn’t have had the grass to keep any cows. We are continuing our conservation efforts with invasive brush management projects and more water development. Milo thrives on improving whatever he touches, and he has more projects and plans than we have time for but we keep chugging along to make our rangeland, our animals, and our infrastructure better and better.
Secondly, when considering our day-to-day we wanted our family to be an integral part of our operation. We have five girls ranging from 14 to three years in age. They have all been horseback since they were young, (the youngest two have been riding long before they walked). The girls are learning valuable lessons here on the ranch and they are learning the nuts and bolts of the business.
This family-centered approach has maybe been different from the more recent past. Brandings may take a little longer as we teach and allow the girls to rope and drag, getting five girls up and saddled before sunrise takes more effort so there are some things that probably aren’t as efficient as if we used a crew of adults. But when we began this Arizona adventure, we made our objectives clear that raising a family was our top priority followed closely by raising quality beef.
Arizona Agriculture: You’re somewhat new to Farm Bureau leadership. Talk about the experience so far?
Andrus: The pickings were slim when it came to leadership in our county Farm Bureau, so I felt it was time I took a turn. I didn’t know enough to feel like I could do the job well so for the first year I concentrated on just showing up. I thought that by showing up to the board meetings, and events I could get my feet wet and start to understand a path forward and a useful role I could play in this capacity.
I have gained a real appreciation of the state outreach team. This leadership volunteer position is already daunting with the other responsibilities I have, but the outreach team has been amazing. Specifically, our outreach manager Christy Davis does such a great job of helping, working and empowering myself and other members that sit on our county board.
As I began to get a greater understanding of the mission of the Farm Bureau, I set two goals for our county and myself. One was to be a true resource and help to members and producers, and not to have meetings or events that don’t help in some important way. No one has extra time for that. Secondly, I wanted to get Ag in the Classroom back into the classrooms here in Apache County. We are making strides on both those goals I think, still a lot more to do but we are making strides.
Arizona Agriculture: If you were talking to a new ag Farm Bureau member thinking about getting more involved, what would you tell them?
Andrus: I really believe in the mission of the Farm Bureau. As Ag producers, our businesses are rarely a 9 am to 5 pm or 40-hour-a-week job. It is a business wrapped up with family wrapped up with unpredictable weather and animals, wrapped up in markets wrapped up in finances wrapped up in payments and bills.
A lot of us are just trying to keep our heads above water. When we think about volunteer work it can seem really daunting to sign up for more to do. We may balk at an organization that requires a membership fee. Maybe we think we can’t afford the time or the fee.
I honestly believe we can’t afford NOT to be a part of programs like this. If someone is interested in joining, I would tell them- we need your voice and we need to be proactively defending and fighting for our values and our industry. If you don’t have time, join anyway, and let someone else do the heavy lifting for now. Only 2% of the American population is part of the Ag industry. In short, 2% feed the other 98% of the people. We will have to be a loud and vocal 2% to be heard and understood and represented. So, what would I say to someone considering joining Farm Bureau- DO IT!
Arizona Agriculture: What’s your “why” when it comes to being involved in Farm Bureau?
Andrus: In graduate school, I studied Environmental Science. My farming parents were so worried about this path, they thought I had gone over to the dark side. I began the program in January and for Christmas, before I left, they gave me the most western and cowgirl gifts you could imagine, they were afraid that I was going to forget my roots and start hugging trees! I chuckle at that now.
Graduate school was a wonderfully formative experience for me. I enjoyed being the “black sheep” in my department and I was constantly helping people understand agriculture. There was just so much misinformation or skewed perspectives, I kept wondering how Agriculture got so behind on messaging. I think I can understand it a bit, as producers we don’t have time to be actively messaging to a greater culture or individually lobbying legislatures at the state and federal levels.
We may not have much time to even keep up with legislative bills that are really affecting us. When I found Farm Bureau- I thought, ok! This is the type of group I have been looking for! I appreciated the mission of the Farm Bureau and I think it does an especially good job of keeping grounded in their grassroots membership. Farm Bureau takes on the busy work of advocacy that producers can’t keep up with. As well as creating avenues of influence for the greater population not involved in ag to understand and support agriculture. As producers, we can take comfort in knowing that they are out there working for our best interest. I am very attracted to grassroots policy development. It is comforting to me to know that issues specific to our area have a direct chain of communication that can gain ears to lawmakers and influencers.
Arizona Agriculture: What’s your philosophy about volunteer leadership?
Andrus: I’m not sure I have ever thought about my philosophy of volunteerism. I grew up with a wonderful father who prioritized volunteering in our community. He truly embodied the adage that it takes a village to raise a family, and he was always willing to help out in his village.
His example would be the foundation of my philosophy, and to articulate it would basically be: Show Up. You may not know enough, you may not have time to do it perfectly, but show up. Do what you can, be involved in your village, care about the community.
Arizona Agriculture: Of all the programs in Farm Bureau, what appeals to you the most and why?
Andrus: I’m not sure I could decide on the most appealing program in Farm Bureau. As I understand and learn more and more about the grassroots policy development aspect, I am quickly becoming a fan.
I’m equally becoming a fan of the Ag in the Classroom. Ag teaches common sense, getting your hands dirty and learning about life in all forms, experiencing new life and even death in plants and animals is instructive. I feel strongly that Ag in the Classroom can and should be an important part of a child’s curriculum.
I also feel like communication and messaging are an important part of our friends and neighbors who are getting more and more distant from their food sources and natural resources. Our American culture needs awareness of these food and fiber systems that provide the basic necessities of life. What Farm Bureau program most appeals to me? Gosh, not sure I could choose. I like them all.
Arizona Agriculture: On a broader industry view, where are we a decade from now in Arizona agriculture?
Andrus: I’m still a little too wet behind the ears as an Arizonan to feel like I have any meaningful perspective to give on the future of agriculture in Arizona. Water will continue to be the currency of agriculture in our arid region. There will be more and more demand for this already scarce resource.
Climate change will continue to be a hot topic and I think agriculture in Arizona can and should begin to position itself as part of the solution. The carbon sequestration benefits of our vast rangelands can continue to be used as a larger part of solutions going forward.
In ten years, we will need to feed more and more people on less and less land. Advancements and technology and genetics will continue to play a major role in that.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Arizona Agriculture.