SALEM — Tammy Dennee is all about cattle right now, but her working life in agriculture has seen her laser-focused on ag sectors as varied as dairy, wheat and barley.
“Last June, I got a call from the then-Oregon Cattlemen’s Association executive director, Jerome Rosa, who told me, ‘I’ve accepted a position in Arizona and I would like you to be my successor,’” she said.
She started the job last October. More than anything else, hard work has been her trademark.
“I grew up in The Dalles and became familiar with agriculture in high school by pulling rye (from wheat fields), which makes you realize you probably don’t want to have to do that every summer forever,” she said. “But agriculture is in my blood.”
She said as her family was poor, and she had a challenging childhood that helped her “grow into a person who is willing to work hard. So my work ethic is embedded in who I am, and I am not afraid to work hard.”
“My love for agriculture is really my love for association work, which is about people, which makes it so satisfying,” she said.
She moved to the Willamette Valley and, through connections with ag producers began working for the Oregon Wheat Commission at a staff level, even though she claimed she “did not know what a bushel of wheat was, I was willing to say ‘yes’ to hard work and showing up and doing good work.”
That work included staffing the then-new Oregon Barley Commission as well as the wheat commission. Her networking abilities led her to move to Pendleton to become the director of member services and then CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League until 2010.
After that, she worked as an independent contractor for wind energy companies through the end of 2014.
Her journey then led her to working with Tami Kerr for the Ag in the Classroom Foundation. When Kerr moved to become executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, Dennee went along as its legislative director for 5 1/2 years.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association she now heads — which represents 13,000 producers in the state — is a two-person operation at the moment, consisting of just herself and communications director Robyn Smith.
“I feel honored to have been given this opportunity and to have served in the dairy industry and the wheat industry,” she said. “I hope my commitment to service as a professional association executive has resonated.”
When asked if the OCA position will be her last stop on the agriculture job ledger, she just laughs.
“Not everyone gets to be in industry leadership,” she said. “We’re all connected, but I’m really good at grabbing the steering wheel and saying, ‘I got this,’ so we’ll just see what life brings.
“As the saying goes, ‘We plan, and God laughs.’”