By Craig W. Anderson

SJFB Past President Kenny Watkins, cattleman and diversified grower in the Linden area was named 2019 Cattleman of the Year by the San Joaquin-Stanislaus Cattlemen’s Association at the organization’s Christmas dinner in Oakdale.

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to help my fellow cattlemen,” Watkins said. “The industry has struggled over the last couple of years and we’re looking forward to overcoming those obstacles.”

“Kenny is well-deserving of this award which is almost like a lifetime achievement award for all he’s done for cattle and agriculture over the years,” said San Joaquin Farm Bureau Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “It’s good to see that another entity has recognized his achievements and dedication to all of agriculture.”

A member of a fifth-generation farm and ranch family near Linden, Kenny grew up around livestock and, as a 4-Her he showed a string of Polled Herefords locally at county fairs, eventually graduating to shows at San Francisco’s Cow Palace and the State Fair.

Kenny credits his success in the show cattle realm to Bud and Bill Sanguinetti, neighbor relatives; he joins both as were also Cattleman of the Year.

Active in the Junior Hereford Association Kenny competed in many livestock judging contests with his brother Andrew and sister DeeAnne as teammates.

Kenny currently manages the ranches of both sides of his family: he farms cherries, peaches, walnuts, almonds, hay and runs the commercial cow/calf operation on the East side of Linden. He’s served at the local level as San Joaquin Farm Bureau President, held a seat on the San Joaquin-Stanislaus Cattlemen’s Association Board and was a member of the USDA Farm Service Agency’s County Committee.

A member of the San Joaquin County Agriculture Hall of Fame, Kenny has also received the CFBF Distinguished Service Award; he also serves on the board of the Linden-Peters Fire Department.

Kenny’s service to agriculture and cattle continued at the state level when he served as the first and second vice president for the California Farm Bureau; he was the liaison between ranchers and numerous government agencies and aided in finding common sense solutions to many issues involving livestock, natural resources, and public lands management.

He contributed his expertise many times to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Bureau of Livestock Identification and the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service to aid in developing solutions to industry issues. Applying his knowledge of cattle, and as a cattleman himself, he identified the needs of cattlemen and discovered the means to resolve conflict and keep moving the industry forward.

“Whether livestock or crops, Kenny’s is an advocate for agriculture across the board and a good one at that,” said SJFB President David Strecker. “At the county, state and national levels, Kenney’s very much engaged with what’s happening.” Strecker added, “When describing the cattleman or farmer, the definition is Kenny Watkins.”

Kenny’s dedication to agricultural issues extended to the political aspect as he was, on behalf of Farm Bureau, a delegate to the California Cattlemen Association and the California Beef Council where he afforded both guidance and direction that instituted support among all the organizations for legislative policy and regulations on livestock issues.

At the national level, Kenny served on the American Farm Bureau Federation Beef Cattle Commodity Advisory Committee for 12 years; during that time, he defended Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in Canada and Mexico on diverse trade missions with the California agriculture delegation.

He led the way on many issues affecting cattlemen, including the National Animal Identification System, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and various Farm Bill Conservation Programs, all the while developing important relationships with Congressional representatives and federal agency staff to ensure the voices of farmers and ranchers were heard.

The ag connection led to him marrying Molly after they met in 4-H while showing cattle. Their children are creating their own paths toward successful careers: son Kenneth is a senior at Oklahoma State University majoring in Farm and Ranch Management with a minor in Farm and Ranch Appraisal; daughter Elisabeth is a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno, with a combined course of study in Ag Science and Journalism. Both have a small herd of Shorthorn cattle.

Kenny said the work in the cattle industry presents challenges for its leaders. “Profitability is down and the biggest challenge is that markets have been low but expenses remain the same; smaller operations are going away.”

But there is, he said, “Some light at the end of the tunnel. Trade deals with Japan, Mexico and Canada, and upcoming with China – where beef is in negotiations along with everything else – has generated some optimism out there. More could have been accomplished if the government hadn’t been so tied up with impeachment.”