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Ag marketing specialist to help Washington County farmers diversify

May 19, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - David Herbst is making good money for now.

The owner of Misty Meadows dairy farm in Ringgold said he is earning about $23 per 100 gallons of milk, almost twice as much as the $13 per 100 gallons he was getting last year.

But although prices are high now, Herbst knows they won't stay up forever.

Which is why he's excited about Leslie Hendrickson, the county's new agricultural marketing specialist who was hired last month.

"We can't produce milk for $13 (per 100 gallons). We're looking to start selling directly to the consumer when it comes back down," Herbst said.

Hendrickson will help Herbst and other farmers in Washington County learn how to diversify their businesses, which she and others say is key to keeping one of Washington County's oldest industries profitable.

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"When I drive down the road, I can point to places where farms used to be. And those farms are gone. To keep our rural, agricultural heritage, we have to keep the (agricultural) community financially strong," Hendrickson said.

Pressure from developers, the aging of family farmers and the unstable market for commodities like grain and milk are just some of the factors contributing to a decline in farming in Washington County, Hendrickson said.

The number of farms in Washington County fell from 823 in 1997 to 775 in 2002, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hendrickson said she will work to stem the decline by helping farmers with everything from setting up Web sites to incorporating new technology on their farms.

She also will help farmers like Herbst sell directly to local consumers, which she said will increase their profits.

Hendrickson started work as the county's agricultural marketing specialist on April 14. She earns $40,803, Washington County Human Resources Director Bill Sonnik said.

The last board of county commissioners approved the position but it took some time to fill it as the county decided under which department the job should go.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval, who served on both boards, said Hendrickson will help farmers who "typically work hard all day and don't always have time to sit down and do business planning."

"Whether that's helping them set up a food stand, selling grapes for a winery or putting in a different crop, the specialist helps with that," Kercheval said.

Hendrickson also will work as a liaison between farmers, farming groups and county and state government, which Herbst said will be a big help for farmers.

"A lot of farmers don't always watch what happens in government, and they don't know that what happens there can really affect them," Herbst said.

Before taking the agricultural marketing specialist job, Hendrickson worked for about three years with the Rural Heritage Museum and Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

Before that, she was an assistant vice president at Citicorp Credit Services for 15 years.

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