It was Thursday, Dec. 6, and Andy Groseta was bouncing between phone calls in his office after returning from Tucson, AZ, where he'd addressed an international audience at the National Livestock Emergency Response Conference.

During our conversation to set up this interview, he was simultaneously orienting himself for his local school board meeting that night. The next morning he would head off for the single-digit temps of the North Country to speak to attendees of the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association.

Then it was back home to Cottonwood, AZ for a day before setting out again for cattlemen's meetings in Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C. He hoped to be home by week's end to celebrate youngest daughter Anna's graduation from the University of Arizona.

Such is life for this desert cattleman thrust prematurely into the glare of the point position for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). But for Groseta, a third-generation cattleman who knew the demands on his time — and by extension, those of his wife Mary Beth and their three children — would be hectic, it's just a natural progression.

Groseta is a “doer,” a guy whose nature is to rip off his jacket, drop his head and wade into the fray.

He's a past president of the Yavapai Cattle Growers Association, and serves as chairman of the University of Arizona Yavapai County Cooperative Extension Advisory Board, in addition to the school board of Mingus Union High School.

He serves on the executive committee of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association (ACGA); has served as chairman of both NCBA's and ACGA's Federal Lands Committee; and is Arizona's immediate past director of the Public Lands Council (PLC), a position he's held since 1999. He also serves on an assortment of local boards and councils.

First-hand involvement is a Groseta earmark, a way of contributing to, and ensuring that, what is important remains healthy and viable. “The cattle business has been good to my family. One of the reasons I got involved in NCBA was because I thought I could make a difference, and I want to help ensure that Mary Beth and I can pass our family ranch on to the next generation,” he says.

A year early

When Oklahoma feeder and president-elect Paul Hitch, who was due to become NCBA president this month, stepped out of the succession track due to health problems (see “The Man Who Would Be President,” page 29), Groseta was catapulted into the hot seat a full year ahead of schedule. With previous NCBA presidents estimating their yearlong commitments entailed more than 200 days away from home, it's not a position one normally slides into without plenty of preparatory groundwork.

But Groseta, who describes himself as “just a simple cattleman who's passionate about the beef industry,” says he's ready and raring to go. “It's really an honor and a privilege to represent the cattlemen in this country, and I take it very seriously,” he says.

Groseta cites his “knack for working with people” as a personal strength. “I think that's very important for folks who intend to get something done,” he says.

Meanwhile, John Falen, a commercial cow-calf operator from Orovada, NV who served with Groseta on PLC and NCBA duties, says he was particularly impressed by the man's focus. “It's easy to get sidetracked on side issues when you're dealing with a PLC problem. He stays focused on an issue until he deals with it,” Falen says.

Bill Zimmerman, a Milaca, MN purebred producer and NCBA Region 3 vice president, lauds Groseta's work in improving communication within NCBA's leadership team, as well as between the association and grassroots producers.

“He's an optimistic, upbeat guy with a smile as big as Arizona,” Zimmerman says. “He's well-prepared to step into his new role as NCBA president, even without the normal benefit of having two preparatory years in the officer team. I'm looking forward to his upbeat enthusiasm and open leadership style.”

W Dart Ranch

Groseta calls himself “a desert rat.” His family is one of the pioneer mining and ranching families that settled in Arizona's Verde Valley, the rugged and enchanting red-rock area that's served as a setting for numerous films and the Zane Grey novel, “Call of the Canyon.” He's as direct as he is gregarious; his manner and presentation are reflective of his bachelor's degree in animal science and agricultural education, and master's degree in agricultural education — patient, methodical, tutorial.

An intent listener with a ready smile, Groseta is the product of what he calls “a very, very conservative” upbringing. “My mom and dad worked hard and set an example for us to work hard,” he says.

He's most proud of the fact that his family's third, fourth and fifth generations currently live on the ranch. Located 20 miles southwest of Sedona and 100 miles north of Phoenix, Groseta's W Dart Ranch features a meandering elevation that rises from 3,400 ft. to 6,500 ft. just a 20-minute drive later.

Celebrating its 86th year in operation, the W Dart Ranch is run by Groseta and his son Paul. Together, they run 350-400 head of cows on 40 sections of rangeland — a patchwork of deeded tracts, private leases, forest and state lands. The ranch headquarters are located on the banks of the Verde River. His daughters, Katy and Anna, also run their own cows on the ranch.

Groseta is also a partner in Headquarters West, Ltd., a statewide agribusiness firm specializing in farm and ranch brokerage, appraisals, management and consulting.

He's optimistic by nature, his personality forged by the strong work ethic of his upbringing in a climate that can be miserly with its moisture and challenging in its management hurdles.

“The drought has really turned us upside down,” Groseta says. “We never used to sell calves. We would calve in the spring, wean in the fall and hold them over winter; turn them out on grass the next spring on the Pine Creek Ranch, a stocker ranch located north of Williams, AZ; and then sell them as 800- to 900-lb. yearlings the next fall. Our native yearlings always went to buyers in Colorado, Texas and Kansas.”

But a lingering drought that began in 1994 forced them to sell their stocker operation, and cull their cows deeper each year. Today, their calves are marketed in the fall.

“We've been in a terrible drought since 1994, and there were major liquidations in 1994 through '96, at a time of a pretty weak market, too, I might add,” he says. “Since then, our wet years have been hit or miss, but 2002 was the driest year in the past century, according to the U.S. Weather Service. We've just begun to retain our keeper heifers again the past 2-3 years.” Most of the ranches in Arizona have culled by 25% to a third, he adds, because of drought conditions the past 13 years.

Still, while acknowledging that challenges abound for his locale and the industry as a whole, the 57-year-old Groseta believes these are exciting times full of opportunities for America's cowmen. “There are a lot of good things happening in the cow business today,” he says.

He ticks off the inroads made in building beef demand, recovering lost export markets, the payoff of new trade deals and the potential offered by the world's growing economies. “One billion people joined the world's middle class last year. That's a big market for protein products, and who can take care of that need better than U.S. beef producers?” he asks.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, for instance, reports that meat consumption increased by 16.3% across the world during the period 1995-2005, with China leading the way with a 50% growth. Mexico was up by almost 30%, South Korea 25%, Saudi Arabia by almost 18%, Brazil by 16% and South Africa by 15%. The U.S. increased 10.4%.

“It's critical we continue to open markets for our product while reaching out to new trading partners. There is no sign that this global trading is slowing down. I believe it will continue to grow at an accelerated pace,” he says.

A unified voice

Despite his Southwest roots, Groseta has been on the road for a better part of three months to places like Wyoming, Texas, Arkansas and Minnesota, meeting with cattlemen and understanding their challenges so he can do his best to serve NCBA members.

In order for the industry to realize its potential, Groseta says a unified voice in U.S. agriculture is needed.

“We need to continue to develop real relationships and collaborate with other agriculture organizations, and speak with one voice. We've all heard that less than 2% of Americans are involved in agriculture today, but it's actually much more serious than that, as the other 98% are increasingly losing their direct touch with production agriculture. They don't know where their food comes from,” he says.

What's needed, he says, is a push among agriculturists to educate consumers about their food. It's also imperative that agriculture solidify and mobilize itself. “Ag needs to speak with one voice, period,” he says.

He champions the collaboration and creation of partnerships and relationships with other organizations and agencies — ranging from the Farm Bureau to the Forest Service.

“This is a people business. If you want to get something accomplished, you have to work with people, treat them with respect and develop a relationship,” he says. “You can't just sit there throwing rocks at people and agencies, then wonder why they're not doing this or that for you.”

This is particularly important today as groups that claim to represent consumers are lobbying against cattlemen with the end goal of removing cattle from the land, and beef from the plate, he says.

He lauds the work NCBA does on behalf of its membership and the industry.

“There are 48 different issues that NCBA is working on, and the majority of those are pretty heavy-duty. NCBA doesn't pick and choose issues. And I can tell you that not every member of this organization — and there are 30,000 members — supports the organization's position on all 48 issues,” he says.

But the members realize that they have the opportunity to be heard and to contribute. They know that all policy flows from the country through local cattlemen's organizations through the affiliates to the national level, he says. The ultimate aim is to ensure a viable industry, one that provides opportunities for current and future practitioners.

“I tell every producer I meet, ‘If you're not an NCBA member, you need to be. We need your participation to have a viable industry, one that enhances opportunity and encourages more of our young people to stay engaged in agriculture, while attracting other youth outside agriculture,’ ” he says.