Cultivated to Serve
First female Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur comes from rich ag heritage
Central Electric Cooperative member, Blayne Arthur, is Oklahoma’s first female secretary of agriculture. Photo by Ryan West
A genuine love for agriculture has been rooted in Blayne Arthur since childhood. Speak to Arthur for a minute and her passion, zeal and enthusiasm for all-things ag shines through. Her upbringing as one of Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Clark and Dr. David Spencer’s daughters shaped the ag champion from an early age. Arthur grew up in Chickasha, Oklahoma, as an Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member. Today, she sits in the office of her family business in Stillwater, a proud member of Central Electric Cooperative, for an interview with Oklahoma Living magazine. Arthur and her high school sweetheart, Jerrod Arthur, developed the Lucky Strike Show Cattle business from the ground up. The business is a full family operation: their son, Kelton, 10, shows cattle and their daughter Kennedy, 6, shows horses. In January, the mom, wife and business owner was selected by governor-elect Kevin Stitt as the state’s first female secretary of agriculture. With her family’s full support, Arthur feels privileged to answer the call. Serving her home state in this capacity means more than working in a field she loves. As Arthur begins her service at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, she honors the legacy of her mother who worked for the department in the 1990s, and whose life ended too soon with the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. For Arthur, the secretary of agriculture role is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she embraces with pride and honor.
The Arthur family from left to right: Jerrod Arthur, son Kelton Arthur, daughter Kennedy Arthur and Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur. Photo by Ryan West
Ag Champion in the Making
Arthur grew up working with the family’s farming operation in Chickasha; the farm, which grew wheat and soybeans, belonged to her grandparents and is still in the family. She is the second child of three daughters: Dr. Rosslyn Spencer-Biggs, a veterinarian with the USDA, Blayne Arthur and Chelsea Evans. Arthur showed horses and cattle and was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. Her mother was a staff veterinarian for the Agriculture Department and later became a vet for the United States Department of Agriculture with an office at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At age 13, Arthur’s world was tragically altered with the loss of her mom in the bombing.
“That was life-changing for all of us,” Arthur says. “My dad did not remarry; he raised all three girls. We saw a great community—mostly the ag community—rise up to help us in any way they could. They became our extended family.”
Arthur had a great support system in her teenage years. She attended Chickasha Public Schools where she had outstanding ag teachers and opportunities to be involved in livestock, career development and ag leadership.
“In my mind, ag people are some of the best people we have in the state of Oklahoma. I love their work ethic, dedication to the land and livestock, and dedication to one another. There is no other group of people I’d rather work with and be around,” Arthur says with a smile.
From left to right: Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Clark, Chelsea Spencer-Evans, Blayne Spencer-Arthur, Rosslyn Spencer-Biggs and Dr. David Spencer. Courtesy photo
Following high school graduation, Arthur attended Oklahoma State University (OSU), earning a bachelor of science degree in Agricultural Economics in 2004. At OSU, Arthur was president of her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. She married her childhood friend, Jerrod Arthur, in 2006.
“We fell in love with Stillwater and bought a 10-acre farm where we built our show cattle business from the ground up,” Arthur says. “We work with small business owners and understand their challenges.”
The family business has great helpers: Kelton shows cattle and recently won an award for the “Supreme Champion Female Overall” at the American Royal in Kansas City, the first time an Oklahoman won this award; Kennedy shows horses, and both kids have done well on state and national levels, their proud mom says. Kelton and Kennedy attend Ripley Elementary School in Ripley, Oklahoma.
“We love the opportunities our kids are receiving at Ripley Elementary. We have a wonderful community here,” Arthur says.
Growing with Each Step
Since graduating from OSU, Arthur’s career in agriculture has progressed with each role she has tackled. Her first full-time job was in small-business financing for Rural Enterprises Inc. In this role, Arthur covered a territory north of I-40 and met many of the state’s rural leaders.
“It was a great opportunity to meet people throughout the state and see how agriculture is important to our economy,” Arthur says.
In 2009, then-Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach hired her to serve as the department’s social media coordinator when social media was still taking flight. When Peach left and Secretary Jim Reese was selected, he not only kept Arthur in the department, he offered her the opportunity to serve as deputy commissioner.
“I learned so much during this time. I worked with commodity group leaders and saw how policy was developed and implemented,” Arthur says. “I began understanding policy from both sides: from the agency perspective and from the producer perspective.”
In 2016, the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation hired Arthur as their executive director. In this leadership role, she learned more from the philanthropic perspective of the ag business.
“I had the great opportunity to focus on young leaders and work with commodity groups and corporations to support youth development programs,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of people who’ve believed in me and have given me opportunities. I’m grateful for each of them.”
Former Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese, resigned from the post on December 31, 2018. Reese joined the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives as the association’s new director of government and regulatory affairs. He thinks highly of Arthur and believes Oklahoma agriculture has a bright future with her leadership.
“I’m privileged to have worked with Blayne and know she will be a fabulous secretary of agriculture,” Reese says. “She knows the people, the industry, and she is very hardworking and efficient. I applaud Gov. Stitt in his selection.”
As Arthur reflects on her career and the connections she has made along the way, she expressed appreciation for Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives and the role they play in the vitality of the state’s rural communities.
“As I think about our farmers and dairy and cattle producers, I’m thankful for their access to reliable and affordable electricity which has made a world of difference in the jobs they can do,” Arthur says. “The role of co-ops is essential to ag producers. The electric co-ops’ response time is exceptional, and we appreciate the linemen who work on long, cold days to ensure everyone’s power is restored.”
First Female Secretary of Agriculture
Arthur expressed excitement and enthusiasm to be a part of Gov. Stitt’s cabinet. “Gov. Stitt wants his team from all agency perspectives to become a Top 10 state,” Arthur says. “While we are a Top 10 in a few areas for agriculture, we do have tremendous opportunity for growth.”
Arthur said Oklahoma has a healthy production of varied commodities, but in most cases the processing of these commodities happens outside of the state. To ensure growth in this area, she plans to work with the Department of Commerce to facilitate new ag processing business and expansion. If successful, these expansions would bring more jobs for Oklahoma. Arthur understands there are challenges in understanding and communicating regulations to agencies and producers.
“Communication is everything,” Arthur says. “Communication from the state level with congressional delegations is vital. We need to continue having regular dialogues with policymakers on the federal and state levels to ensure ag interests are well represented.”
Other challenges Arthur recognizes are the need to educate new legislators on the importance of agriculture and to provide better overall education to consumers on how commodities are grown and where their food comes from.
“My hope is that in four years we can turn around and say we accomplished great things for Oklahoma,” Arthur says.
Blayne Arthur - accompanied by her family - is sworn in as Oklahoma’s secretary of agriculture on January 14, 2019. Courtesy photo
After being sworn in on January 14, Arthur took over as Oklahoma’s first female secretary of agriculture. When asked about the significance of this historic role, Arthur said she was proud to represent all females in agriculture as well as the entire ag industry.
“Many strong women came before me and helped to make agricultural operations better,” Arthur says. “I’m proud to represent the women who have paved the way prior to me. I want to instill in young women that there’s no opportunity out there they cannot achieve.”
Arthur acknowledges women bring a unique perspective to ag operations and policy development. They are good leaders and team players.
“Women can juggle a lot of things and do it effectively,” Arthur says. “Most females in ag are moms themselves and that resonates with many consumers.”
Arthur is a proponent of younger generations being involved in ag and would like to provide them with tools for their success and growth in the ag industry.
“We need an enthusiastic generation that is comfortable with implementing new technologies and can approach situations with innovation. Young generations love technologies, and ag needs more tech advances and resources,” Arthur says.
It is important to Arthur to cultivate growth in agriculture for future ag leaders. After all, she is a result of those who came before her, including her mom, Dr. Peggy Clark who nurtured Arthur and shaped the leader in her.
As she concludes her interview with OKL, Arthur puts it simply, “There is nothing more challenging—and nothing more rewarding—than working with agriculture.”