The Power of Service
Nathan Jackson did not grow up on a ranch. He did not grow up with land to inherit or with generational knowledge about agriculture. Despite that, Nathan has become an influential leader and businessman in Oregon’s agricultural industries, natural resource associations, and a national voice for the cattle industry. Nathan is the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s outgoing president, he serves as a commissioner on the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, was previously a director for the Klamath Watershed Partnership, is the representative for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to the Intertribal Agriculture e-Council, and within the last month, Nathan has stepped out of his day to day management position at K-Bar Ranches to become the Vice President of Agricultural Operations for the Umpqua Indian Development Corporation.
So how does a young boy from a logging community in Douglas county rise to notable agricultural leadership? Simply put, Nathan believes in the power of service. His father encouraged him from a young age to build a career with strategy and integrity, and in doing so, Nathan has been able to rise through the ranks in one of the most honorable fields – agriculture.
“Like so many young adults today, I wasn’t raised on a ranch or a farm, so I faced capital barriers to forging a life in agriculture,” says Jackson. After graduating from South Umpqua High School, Jackson pursued ag classes at Umpqua and Klamath Community Colleges while working in the casino cages at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville. In 2000, the Cow Creeks purchased K-Bar Ranches, outside of Myrtle Creek. It was at that time; Jackson took his first professional role in agriculture as a ranch hand.
In 1966, Kenneth and Glenna Bare purchased 664 acres of hillside pasture and farmland to raise mother cows and support their growing family. Throughout the years, they continued to expand K-Bar Ranch in the Umpqua Valley by purchasing a land parcel known as Round Prairie. This purchase led the Bare family to switch from mother cows and calves to raising stocker cattle. Today, with the growth in the operation under Tribal ownership, K-Bar manages 5,500 acres, produces 10,000 tons of hay and raises 4,000 head of cattle annually in both Jackson and Douglas counties. Under Nathan’s management, the production of the ranch has expanded to include crop and hemp production.
Nathan hit the ground running, soaking up knowledge while the tribe progressed ranch operations in the early 2000’s. In 2008, he was contacted by Sylvia Gerber with Gerber Ranch in Klamath county, where he had met his former partner Katharine Jackson several years prior. Sylvia offered him the position of manager for the ranch. It was at that point; Nathan began to understand the valuable role an association can have in a community.
“When I started working for Sylvia, one of the first things she said to me was if you’re going to work in the cattle industry then you have to be involved with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association,” says Jackson. He began by attending the Klamath Cattlemen’s Association meetings and quickly found a place to make a difference. Nathan considers himself as a “process and order type of guy” – perhaps a knack he picked up while working at the casino. Nevertheless, he was tasked with cleaning up and restructuring the Klamath Bull and Horse Sale. At that time, the books for the sale had been mismanaged to the point where the profit and loss was unexplainable. For a few years, Nathan worked to get the sale back on track. Today, the bull sale brings in over $80,000 annually and is a vital resource for the quality of cattle in the county.
Nathan quickly moved up the ranks from county president to OCA committee chair. When he first began attending OCA meetings, Sharon Livingston was the president of the association. “I wanted to be a part of the
conversation and I knew I couldn’t make a difference in the way the industry ran or the issues we were concerned about unless I was a voice at the table,” he says. At the time, there was little structure to how resolutions or policies were written, renewed or removed. Nathan thought it could be managed better. In 2013, he was tasked with cleaning up OCA’s policy book. “At that particular convention, we were able to sit down in a structured meeting and discuss these policies with informed conversation. By the end, we found 50 resolutions that weren’t serving a purpose for the association moving forward,” he says.
Just as his role in leadership grew, Nathan decided to move his family back to Douglas county and to take a management position with K-Bar Ranches. This was one example of a tactical move he made in his life to
progress as a businessman in agriculture. “This move was the right one for my family and the right one to put my knowledge and experience to further use – it offered room for growth,” he says. Nathan was elected treasurer of the Cattlemen’s Association during Ray Sessler’s presidency in 2015. He believes Ray was a driving force in the improvement and strength this association has had legislatively. That was also the time in which Nathan took part in the hiring committee for Executive Director Jerome Rosa.
“At that time, we needed someone who could get us out of the defense strategy and start playing offense – and that person was Jerome,” says Jackson, “It takes a conscious, daily effort to play offense and because of the great staff in Salem, we’re gaining ground and punching above our weight. I’m very proud to have been a part of that hiring team – he was a great choice”.
Before OCA had full-time staff, the presidency itself was a full-time position. Nathan was thankful for the staff taking over many duties that have allowed him to progress in his own career while serving as president. Whereas before, presidents would often postpone their careers to travel the state, the ability to count on staff makes the presidency more appealing to members who can’t afford to trade in a career for leadership. This was particularly important for Nathan because of his desire to serve his constituents in the cattle industry.
“At first, I was overwhelmed to be “the face” for an entire state membership, but also very honored and humbled to know the association had faith that I was the guy for the job,” he says.
Nathan Jackson took the reins of OCA in January of 2018, succeeding John O’Keefe as president. Nathan’s first year was focused on putting out fires and organizational issues, but 2019 was a strong year of legislative work. On several occasions, Jackson made a trip to the Oregon capitol building during session to testify and he worked closely with Jerome and Rocky Dallum, OCA’s Political Advocate, to develop a strong presence on contentious issues. Several notable accomplishments this year include increased wolf depredation compensation, tide gate regulation, elk damage tags and the shutdown of the cap and trade bill.
Recently, Nathan and OCA leadership have been accredited with starting a national conversation about transparency in labeling. Nathan has been on a regular working group call with leaders of NCBA to iron out the issues in question and he will continue to call for better regulation and transparency far after he has left office. When asked about the concerns of national affiliation and the association’s policies on “hot-button” issues, such as labeling, Nathan said the number one priority for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is, and always will be, to do what is best for Oregon cattle producers.
“We can never lose sight that working for Oregon’s cattle industry is why this association exists,” he says, “OCA’s association with NCBA is very important. We may not agree on every policy, but at the end of the day, our affiliation makes OCA more effective at advocating for Oregon cattle producers.” When asked how he approaches differing opinions within membership, Nathan said, “No one’s point of view is more or less valid. The important thing is that the association develops policy from informed conversations. We all come from differing circumstances and have different expectations, but that’s why it’s vital to attend meetings – we need unbiased, informed conversations to make the best decisions possible for the cattle producers in this state.”
If anyone has attended an OCA meeting while Nathan has presided, then they are sure to have noticed his calm and collected demeanor while mediating discussion. Every meeting has a purpose and Nathan is one of the best at ensuring meetings run in a timely and organized manner. He shares four secrets to keeping the order during a meeting:
1. Enunciate your words
2. Talk slightly louder than normal
3. Keep the meeting moving – avoid diverging from the topic at hand
4. Believe in yourself – you must believe in yourself for others to believe in you
One part of the Presidency that Nathan has enjoyed the most is connecting county membership with state leadership. “It’s hard to find a balance between stable leadership and new blood,” he says, “to ensure the association’s progression we must have new members transfer to leadership roles, but at the same time, stable leadership ensures past lessons are held in perspective. I have always believed in open communication – I tell all of my employees, if you have an idea for improvement then I want to know about it.”
Nathan has found assigning duties to members at quarterly meetings, such as introducing presenters or delivery of awards is a great way for members to feel involved. Particularly, for a grassroots association, it’s vital to promote inclusion and a small, but important role for a new member may be the first step in their path to service and leadership. When asked if Nathan had a message for the incoming president he said, “Stay focused. You must understand that your duty is to serve Oregon cattle producers. Avoid situations that do not serve the mission of the association, but don’t shirk your responsibility to assert a position if needed. Creating resources for informed conversations amongst members is one of the most vital things you can do as president.”
After his term, Nathan will focus on his family; his daughter Madeline, 12 and son Garrett, 8. He looks forward to his new role with the Cow Creek tribe as Vice President of Ag Operations, which will now include management of Klamath Basin Equipment. Nathan will continue his involvement with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and says he will always take an active participation in the policies and resolutions committee. The future is bright for Nathan Jackson. The Cattlemen’s Association would like to thank him for his years of service to the members of the cattle industry from every corner of the state and for the impact his voice has had in Oregon agriculture. Presidency is not an easy job. It takes someone with a business mindset, an entrepreneurial attitude and a willingness to serve no matter the situation.
At the conclusion of our interview, Nathan left me with this message:
“Everyone has the potential to make a difference. If you have the time, talent, financial means, expertise or whatever it may be, then you have an obligation to serve, to contribute and to aid in the betterment of our society.”
~ Lifestyle Coverage by Robyn H. Smith, OCA Communications Director & Oregon Cattleman Magazine Publisher