Matthew Weaver/Capital Press
KENNEWICK, Wash. — When Alexis Taylor became director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, she set a goal of visiting all 36 counties in the state in her first year.
She marked her one-year anniversary Jan. 23 and visited her final county two weeks before.
“I was just new enough and probably naive enough to take that on when I first started,” she said, speaking at the Washington-Oregon Potato Conference in Kennewick, Wash. “It was a big investment of time, but a really great one.”
In her first year, Taylor visited more than 40 farms and ranches, held more than 11 roundtable discussions, toured 23 businesses and 15 natural resource projects and spoke to “countless” county and state agricultural meetings.
The No. 1 topic she heard about was the next generation, including children taking over a family farm or ranch or a beginning farmer or rancher accessing land or capital. She also heard about labor, immigration and workforce challenges and the disconnect between rural and urban Oregon.
“Farming and ranching is the second-largest sector in the state, and many did not feel that’s really acknowledged, particularly by a lot of the urban sectors of the state,” she said.
ODA will also work to boost awareness of agricultural career opportunities among Oregon’s youth. Currently, the number of graduates fill only about 61 percent of the job opportunities available each year, she said.
“Yes, we need farmers and ranchers, but we also need scientists, journalists, people with a whole host of different types of backgrounds thinking that they’re going into agriculture today,” she said. “I grew up outside a town of 300 people in Iowa. I did not know at that time that I could work in agriculture and have a career that took me all over the world.”
Before joining ODA, Taylor was USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign agriculture services. She visited nearly 30 countries during that time, she said.
“There are lots of exciting opportunities and we need young people to really connect with that, whether they grew up on a farm or grew up in Portland,” she said.
Taylor said the department’s mission is to help farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses find local, domestic and international markets for their products. More than 225 commodities are grown in Oregon.
“ODA is pretty unique in Oregon state government, where we regulate but we also promote for an industry,” she said. “This can sometimes cause tension, but I actually think that tension is really important and makes us a better regulator for our farmers and ranchers. What might make sense in the four walls of my office, with my staff, might not make sense from a common-sense, on-the-ground perspective.”