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Kerr returns ‘home’ to dairy industry

By MITCH LIES

For the Capital Press

Tami Kerr grew up on a Tillamook dairy farm. Now she's the head of the state's biggest dairy organization.

SALEM, Ore. ­— She was raised on a dairy farm in Tillamook, Ore., still owns cows and occasionally travels to the family farm to milk them. Still, there are days when the learning curve is pretty steep for the new executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association.

“There are definitely days when I feel like I’m drinking from the fire hose,” said Tami Kerr.

The good news, Kerr said, is having a working knowledge of what it takes to operate a dairy is holding her in good stead.

“I don’t know how you would jump into this position without that,” she said.

Kerr started in her new position Feb. 1. She replaced Jim Krahn, who retired last year after 22 years as executive director of the association.

Kerr, who worked 14 years as executive director of the Corvallis-based Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, said she wasn’t looking to leave the nonprofit educational organization. She in fact called the dairy association to recommend a friend for the job when she heard of the opening.

“I wasn’t interested in commuting to Portland (from Corvallis), so I wasn’t interested in the job,” she said. When she learned the association was looking to move its office from the Oregon Dairy Products Commission building in Portland to Salem, she decided to reconsider.

Being located in the Natural Resources Building in Salem, which also is home to the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, has been beneficial on several fronts, Kerr said.

“I have to be in Salem for a lot of meetings with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and others,” she said. “And being here at the Farm Bureau and cattlemen offices provides a great opportunity to collaborate with them on issues.”

Kerr said she’s been getting a crash course on issues facing dairy farmers: She meets regularly with dairy lobbyist Roger Beyer and Oregon State University Extension Dairy Specialist Troy Downing. She’s also visited the farms of several of ODFA board members.

“I have enjoyed getting to know them and to find out about their issues and what their concerns are,” she said.

Chris Eggert, chairman of the board for the Dairy Farmers Association, said the association is excited to have her on board.

“She’s learning more about a part of the industry she didn’t know about,” Eggert said. “But she knows the people. She can step on a farm and talk to a farmer, and she can go to Salem and talk to a legislator.

“It’s been a great relationship so far, and I am very excited about it, and I know our board is, and other farmers, as well,” Eggert said.

Kerr said she enjoyed her time at Ag in the Classroom and hated to leave. “I really enjoyed teaching kids and their teachers where their food comes from, and that farmers are taking care of the land and their animals and producing quality products. But dairy is my base,” she said. “It is my core.

“This is coming home for me,” she said. “The dairy industry is my home.”

CAPTION:

Tami Kerr, pictured April 26 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds during Ag Fest, took over on Feb. 1 as executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. “This is coming home for me,” said Kerr, who grew up on a dairy in Tillamook.



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