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Extension names Semler new ag educator

September 13, 2005|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

Washington County Extension educator Jeff Semler is shifting jobs, an official announced Monday.

Semler, who has specialized in the broad area of 4-H youth development as well as agriculture and natural resources here for the University of Maryland since 1996, will focus on agriculture and natural resources beginning Friday, said Lynn Little, county Extension director.

In his new job, Semler will be succeeding the late Don Schwartz, who died of cancer this past January.

Little said Semler is well-qualified for his new assignment. He has worked as an Extension agent in Berkeley County, W.Va., and in Baltimore and Harford counties in Maryland.

During Schwartz's absence and after his death, Little said, Semler has "stepped in and picked up many of those responsibilities on an as-needed basis. He's done a remarkable job."

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Semler, 45, who lives in the Clear Spring area and is a county native, said Monday he applied for his new position "because my heart's always been in agriculture and, while I enjoyed 4-H, I just was looking for a new challenge."

As he considers his new role, Semler said, he will use university research to help local farmers as they work together on the "challenge of making agriculture profitable, so that agriculture remains a strong viable industry in the county.

"And, secondly, we have to start addressing the needs of small and part-time landowners/gentlemen farmers who have started moving to the 'burbs."

Office director Little said that while Semler begins focusing on agriculture and conservation, he will still be involved in 4-H programs until someone else is hired to fill that job.

Little said she has submitted a request to Mary Ellen Waltemire, regional Extension director, to fill Semler's current position.

Waltemire said Monday afternoon she is going to forward the request today to the university, and is "very confident it will be approved."

However, she said, that process and the subsequent hiring could take three or four months because it has to go through a review and then approval by the dean of agriculture. After that, the job will be open to tenured educators in Extension offices throughout Maryland and if none of them applies, a national search would be launched.

Waltemire said the position being requested would be "100 percent 4-H," as opposed to the current position, which concentrates on 4-H youth development, but also includes agriculture and conservation.

She said Semler will also be trying "some new and different things" in his new role as he works overall to keep local farmers in business.

New sidelights will include exploring the potential for alternative agricultural products here, and working with the county's economic development officials "to increase some economic activities such as agricultural tourism, direct marketing and value-added products," Waltemire said.

The latter could include "taking maybe apples and maybe making wine out of them," she said.

The differences reflect the county's changing needs, she said. "We still recognize agriculture as the number one industry in the state, but we're just maybe changing our focus a little bit to recognize what we do have," she said.

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