Magazine Feature: Get to know CCA’s President Steve Arnold
All Around Agriculture For CCA’s 51st President
CALIFORNIA CATTLEMAN MAGAZINE | JANUARY 2023
Growing up in San Luis Obispo County, located about 20 miles east of Santa Margarita in the small town of Pozo, Steve Arnold started riding horses and working with his dad on the ranch at an early age. Full of oaks and woodland grasslands, home to the famous Pozo Saloon and just one mountain range in from the Pacifific Ocean, Pozo is still home to Steve today.
While Steve had other jobs before returning to the ranch in Pozo, the Central Coast has always been his home. Similarly, cowboying and running cattle is still what he knows best today. Even at a young age, Steve knew he wanted to be in ranching, but what he didn’t know is that he would develop an interest in agricultural leadership over time, that would lead him to become CCA’s 51st President.
Although Steve’s grandfather, Guy, was involved in agriculture and is the reason Steve was able to grow up on the same land his family came to in the early 1900s, Guy was more of a farmer than a cattleman.
“My dad is the one that got us into the cowboy world,” Steve said.
When Steve and his siblings were around six years old, they were already on horses helping their dad move cows or do whatever was needed. Being the oldest kids of four, Steve and his brother also helped their dad from a young age by riding the horses he was training for others.
“From about the time we were 10-12 years old, we would start those colts with him…,” Steve said. “My brother and I would ride them for the first three or four months, six even, and then my dad would turn them into bridle horses in the next six. From that time on, I really never did anything different.”
After high school, Steve spent three years at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he was enrolled in school and worked in the butcher shop. At that time, he also met his wife, Debbie, and they were married in 1975.
“When I first left college without my degree…my dad told me to go get a job with a real company, like the phone company or PG&E. [My dad] said, ‘You’re going to be way ahead of the game,’” Steve said. “But that wasn’t what I wanted.”
Following their wedding, Steve and Debbie moved out to the La Panza Ranch, over the hill about an hour east of Pozo. He had worked at the ranch during college and was offered the manager position at age 23 when his predecessor moved to a ranch in Nevada.
“It was the best job I ever had,” Steve said. “We ran 6,000 head of steers. We didn’t have a cattle truck, didn’t have a cattle trailer, but I had horses.”
After living and working out there for two years, the La Panza Ranch ended up being sold and changing ownership. Steve then went to work at Templeton Livestock Market with Dick Nock and other partners for a year.
“It’s the closest I ever came to getting a divorce for sure because that required a lot of time, and anybody [who reads] this that has a sales yard is going to know exactly what I’m saying,” Steve said. “It’s a day and night job, and it’s seven days a week.”
After surviving the year at the auction yard, Steve worked on a ranch in San Simeon over on the coast for two years—but he hated it. There was too much fog, and he couldn’t get used to the weather.
Steve jokes that working at Templeton Livestock Market almost changed his life because the long hours just about drove him and Debbie to a divorce only a few years into their marriage—thankfully, it didn’t. But the next job after the one in San Simeon actually did change it, and for the better.
After leaving the ranch in San Simeon, Steve got an opportunity to work at the Cammate Ranch just south of Shandon for a cattleman named Bob Morrison.
“He was the guy that really got me involved in Cattlemen’s and in all the political things that go with all the stuff we do now,” Steve said. “I can’t thank him and his wife enough. They’re the ones that used to take Debbie and me to the annual Cattlemen’s meeting. I got myself on a committee and climbed to the vice chairmanship. He’s the one guy I owe as much as anything to.”
While working for Morrison, Steve met John Braley, the CCA Executive Vice President, who at the time was in Class 18 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program. Having experienced the program himself, Braley told Steve he was going to recommend him for it. Braley did just that and had an application for Class 19 of the Ag Leadership program sent to Steve.”I looked at [the application], and it was one of those things that it’s pretty easy for a guy that just gets on his horse every day and does his thing to throw in the trash,” Steve said. “So instead of Class 19, I took a serious ass-chewing from John Braley about throwing the stupid thing away.”
The following year, Steve again received an application, but this time he didn’t discard it. He and Debbie worked on the application and got it submitted. Steve later did an interview and was accepted into Class 20 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program (Ag Leadership).
“I’m going to give all the credit in the world to Bob Morrison, the owner of the Cammate Ranch, because he allowed us to do things that I would have never done, and he allowed me the time to go do the Ag Leadership,” Steve said. “It changed my life entirely. That two-year span right there, everything changed.”
While Ag Leadership greatly impacted Steve, he says Nock does deserve some of the credit. Even years after working for him at the Templeton Livestock Market, Nock constantly pushed him to be a leader within the cattle industry.
Involved with San Luis Obispo Farm Bureau for a long time, having joined the board after completing Ag Leadership, Steve knew he couldn’t commit to leadership roles with both Cattlemen’s and Farm Bureau. Eventually, he went off the Farm Bureau board and joined the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association board with Nock.
“When I got into the leadership portion of San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen, Dick was the guy that was always in the background that would be chipping away… [saying], ‘Stevie, what are you going to do about the membership?’”
Nock, unfortunately, passed away two years ago, but Steve knows he had gained Nock’s approval of his work and successful efforts in growing the number of members in San Luis Obispo County. Even if Nock never directly told him, a thumbs up from him during the membership update at each meeting was enough.In addition to Morrison and Nock, Alex Madonna was another mentor of Steve’s at a young age. One he was able to spend a great deal of time with before Alex passed.
“There’s a lot of mentors I’ve had that have been really good,” Steve said.
COMING HOME Following their time at the Cammate Ranch, Steve and Debbie came back to Pozo in the early 1990s. Today they have a cow-calf operation and live on portions of the same land in Pozo that Steve’s great-grandfather settled on in 1919. The old original homestead on the south side of the Pozo road is almost exactly as it was a hundred years ago, with the original houses still standing and the same fields being dry land farmed.
Although pieces of the ranch have stayed the same, the land on the north side has seen changes. When Debbie and Steve moved back to Pozo, they started thinking about how to keep the ranch sustainable and successful by diversifying. With good soil and some groundwater, growing vegetables was an idea tossed around at one point. Eventually, they passed on the idea as it turned out that vegetables would be more of an undertaking year-round than Steve and Debbie wanted.
Instead, they were advised to try wine grapes. While Steve admits he knew nothing about the commodity before signing his first contract, a few decades later it led the Arnold family to have a vineyard on the property still and now have the Vintage Cowboy Winery on the ranch too.
“We have two kids, and they are the winery part of our vineyard operation,” Steve said. “Our daughter, Michelle, runs all the books and sales and all the paperwork that goes along with producing alcohol. Our son, Joey, is the winemaker and designated socialite of the group. My only job involving the winery anymore is to make sure that we have grapes. I’m the vineyardist, so to speak.”
With the vineyard enduring as a key part of the family business over the last few decades, cows also continue to be an interest for the family with Steve’s son Joey and son-in-law Ryan helping him manage the herd.
“My grandad ran registered Hereford cows,” Steve said. “My father got us into commercial herds, and we bred some Brown Swiss into our system for our milkability. Then we went all black…. But we are moving back in to the Herefords.”
When asked how he and Debbie manage the ranch, vineyard and winery, family time with his two kids and all four of his grandkids living in the area, Debbie’s role as a supervisor for San Luis Obispo County and everything in between, Steve had a quick answer: “She’s a really hard worker and then there is me.”
As hardworking as Debbie is, in 2020 Steve was honored as the San Luis Obispo Cattleman of the Year. His peers and neighboring cattlemen and women recognized he must have had something to do with the Arnold family’s land remaining in production all these years. Additionally, they must have noticed Steve’s success at making a life in ranching, the career he always desired to be in.
LEADING CCA While serving as CCA First Vice President, one of Steve’s main commitments was chairing the CCA building committeeover the last two years. On Oct. 14, 2022, CCA closed escrow on the sale of the 1221 H Street building, home to the Association since 1985 when it was purchased. The decision to sell the CCA building was not taken lightly. From the start, the committee wanted to ensure the best for the future of CCA. Now that the building sale is final, one of Steve’s onset priorities as president is to assist in finding the Association’s new home.
“Number one, since we sold the building, I need to help and be sure that staff is happy with the location because no matter how we cut it, I think we’re going to be there for three years,” Steve said. “And I want to be sure that we uphold the honor of the people that bought the building before us, John Lacey, Myron [Openshaw], Jerry Hemsted, those kinds of folks that were involved 40 years ago.”
Steve’s goal for the Association while he is involved is to hang on to money received from the building sale and do a good job reinvesting it in the next CCA-owned building.
Looking ahead at what’s to come in his presidency, Steve confesses he is not one for making goals. He is happy with his officer team, made up of a diverse representation of ranchers from throughout the state. He is also pleased about the officers who just came on board—Frank Imhof, Pleasanton, and Mike McCluskey, Red Bluff.
In addition to having a solid team for the next two years, Steve is okay with it seeming quiet for now. He says he will take it, especially compared to the previous few years where all the crises of the onset of the pandemic and then cattle prices and markets consumed much of the energy and CCA leadership’s attention.
“It just seems quiet, which I know won’t last that long, so I’m not that guy that’s going to go try to stir something up to have something to do,” Steve said. “I just want to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and doing it better than we need to be doing it. That’s my goal.”
Another priority Steve has is getting CCA membership and engagement back to where it was before COVID. Given his involvement in the success of the San Luis Obispo Cattlemen’s Association’s recruitment efforts, there should be plenty of experience Steve can bring to this aspect of leading CCA.
“I think it is important that CCA is a membership-driven association,” Steve said. “And I’m a little worried that it’s required too much of staff—and not that that’s a bad thing—but I would like to see it where the drive is coming out of the committees and other things, make sure we get back to that.”
To get in touch with Steve directly about CCA issues or becoming involved as a member, contact the CCA office.
“I just really appreciate that the cattlemen of the state of California will allow me to do this, and I’m happy to give my time and energy to promote the industry that I’ve been part of my whole life,” Steve said. “And thank you.”
Getting to Know to Steve:
What do you like to do with your spare time, and what would you like to do if given some extra spare time? I’d like to drive the West. I want to go to Cody, Wyoming. That’s what I would do if I had an opportunity. Debbie and I have opportunities to watch our granddaughters play sports and rodeo. All of them play basketball, a few play soccer and one is big into roping.
What’s your favorite cut of beef? I like a ribeye cooked medium rare.
Favorite music? I’m a Led Zeppelin fan. Anything from Led Zeppelin.
If you could meet any person, dead or alive, who would you want to meet? I’d say Thomas Jefferson, or maybe Ronald Regan. Otherwise, I will go way, way back and chat with Aristotle or somebody like that. I’d go back there and hang with those guys and just see. You know they are drinking some really crappy wine, philosophizing about something that probably wasn’t that important. I think it would be kind of fascinating to see what they were doing.
Do you prefer having ranch dogs around, or are you more partial to having barn cats? I have one marginal Border Collie. I have those two really, quality cattle dogs, Boston Terriers. My barn cat is a house cat because he just does what he wants to. Willie (the house cat) came out of the walls of the Pozo Saloon the last time Willie Nelson was in concert in Pozo.
What is something unique about ranching in your part of California? The region of San Luis Obispo County, northern Santa Barbara County and most of Monterey County is unique in that it is home to some of the best cowboys in the world for roping and riding. If you go to a local competition here it is about as competitive as it gets.
Tune into Sorting Pen: The California Cattleman Podcast to hear more from Steve.
In this final episode of season two, get to know San Luis Obispo County cattleman Steve Arnold as he will lead CCA as president over the next two years.