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Effort under way to win OK to hire new local ag specialist

April 05, 2005|by ARNOLD S. PLATOU

arnoldp@herald-mail.com

The Washington County office of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension has begun the process to earn university approval to hire an Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources.

The agency's longtime local ag specialist, Don Schwartz, died in January.

The office has invited a cross-section of the local ag community to a meeting April 12 to discuss what's needed, county Extension Director Lynn Little said Monday. Comments received will be used in the "position description we will write to fill Don's position," Little said.

Little said she is fairly certain the university will approve funding for the job.

"There's no guarantee because it has to go through an approval process. The likelihood, I would say, is pretty good," Little said.

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Because the approval process has several stages, a final decision won't be made for several months.

"I would say it would be fall, at the earliest, until we get through the process," Little said. "There are many hoops and many people to talk with before you get up the line."

At present, the county office, which is off Sharpsburg Pike south of Hagerstown, has three Extension educators - Little, Jeff Semler and Lori Young.

Little, in addition to directing the office, is the Extension educator for family and consumer sciences. Young specilizes in horticulture. Semler focuses on 4-H youth development programs, but also works in the areas of agriculture and natural resources.

Since Schwartz became ill about a year ago, Little said, Semler has done yoeman's work stepping up to help local farmers. "He's done a super job kind of juggling all the balls," Little said.

There are 765 farms, including 153 dairy farms, covering a total of about 125,000 acres in Washington County.

Little said her staff has been receiving support from other Extension offices while it waits for approval to hire another educator who can specialize in agriculture.

Frederick County Extension educator Stan Fultz, for example, has helped Semler in the area of grass plot research and they have worked together on some pasture walks, she said.

"Everybody's been willing to provide some support as we need it," Little said.

The April 12 meeting is among the first steps needed in the process to hire another educator in agriculture and natural resources.

Little said she has invited a cross-section of the community, including agricultural producers, greenhouse operators, people who are in the business of raising horses and alpacas, and officials from local conservation, planning and other government agencies.

She said her staff understands the need to hire someone to specialize in agriculture, but wants to hear of that and any other needs from the community, "not just assume we know."

"We're trying to look at current and future needs. It's not just today, but the future," she said.

Little stressed that by sending invitations, she was not trying to exclude anyone. She said she was trying to ensure the Extension office space is adequate for the meeting.

She added that she would be eager to receive letters or e-mails from anyone else. Her e-mail address is

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