Fighting for Water: Andy Smith

Features - Leadership Winners

Andy Smith spends his time tirelessly fighting for the industry at the Irrigation Association.

November 19, 2009
Tom Crain

As external affairs director for the Irrigation Association (IA), Andy Smith’s greatest challenges are to diffuse the heated public policy discussions on irrigation that intensify every year. Some of these discussions have been going on since he began his then-newfound position in 2005.

Smith knows that to be effective in irrigation legislative issues, he needs to keep steering the conversation back to science and removing emotion from it.

And that’s no small feat.

“The current debate on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program for single homes is a current challenge in the forefront,” he says. “Industry has one opinion and the EPA has another.”

Smith says that, regardless of what he or anyone else achieves, there is always something better we can all aspire to.

“Leadership is a privilege,” says Smith. “I don’t consider myself as a leader as much as I do a collaborator. We are all a work in progress. I am constantly working on becoming better. I just keep putting my ladder up a tree and keep climbing.”

Smith believes you are only as good as your last accomplishment. “As each one of your goals gets pushed over the top, you have to always be looking for the next one,” he says.

Although Smith has experienced many milestones in his career, he always points to the one that “made me – a constantly talking industry spokesperson – speechless.”

In a surprise ceremony at the Georgia Irrigation Association (GIA) forum, Ed Klaas, GIA president, presented Smith with the 2007 GIA Partner of the Year award. He was selected for the honor because of his active involvement with the organization’s response to the critical drought conditions in the state.

“Our industry is constantly on the defensive,” Smith explains. “New, tough ordinances are popping up more frequently, even to the point of introducing all out bans on water usage such as what we’ve seen in Georgia. There is no peace and no rest if you want to stay on top of it all. In order to be effective, you have to keep your head down and just keep going.”

Smith believes that it’s critical for successful leaders in his industry to stay involved through continuing education and participation in ongoing certification programs. He is proud of the fact that he was the 13th member to become a Certified Irrigation Contractor.

Smith grew up around the landscaping industry; his father was a landscape contractor. But he chose not to join his father’s business. After attending college, he became a cherry farmer instead. Realizing that cherry farming didn’t pay the bills, he then went to work for an irrigation contractor.

During the second half of his career, he ran three different irrigation companies in the Boyne City, Mich., area until he was recruited to join the IA. Even though Smith chose to break away from his father’s business, he recognizes him as a great mentor and leader in maintaining high quality relationships with all of his customers.

Smith telecommutes from his home in Michigan, and endures the same seasonal workload as many in the industry. But being home allows him some flexibility; he can break away from his work routine, which begins at the crack of dawn most mornings, to run his 11-year-old daughter, Madison, to school each day. Because he works across many time zones he sometimes doesn’t wrap up his work until 8 or 9 o’clock at night. In a typical year, he’ll travel to more than 30 states working on a variety of irrigation issues. 

Smith’s wife, Kim, and daughter are his true inspirations. “My wife hustles as much as I do and provides the necessary support I need for frequent travel away from home.

“I often wonder what kind of a place I am leaving my daughter,” Smith says. “Water is a finite resource. The future of the industry is in our hands. We have to tighten up on how we use water, which in some cases we use three to four times more than what’s really necessary. It’s up to us to manage the resources properly.”