Ranchers, WSU seek to fill livestock position

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Washington State University Extension is looking to fill a key position in northeast Washington to work with livestock producers. Longtime extension educator Tom Platt retired in July after more than 30 years. WSU Extension assistant director Randy Baldree hopes to have the position filled by spring, and said the new person will work with an animal agriculture team statewide.

SPOKANE — Ranchers and Washington State University Extension leaders hope to fill a key livestock position left vacant by a longtime expert’s retirement, but it probably won’t happen until next spring.

Cattle and sheep ranchers and county representatives recently met with university officials to discuss finding a replacement for Tom Platt, who retired in July after nearly 30 years as an extension educator.

Randy Baldree, assistant director of WSU Extension and director of the Agriculture Extension Program, said filling the position is a priority. He expects to post a notice for the job by December, advertise for 60 days and screen candidates in late January or early February.

Stakeholders will be able to meet with finalists, Baldree said.

He hopes to have someone hired by next spring.

When some ranchers expressed concern over the delay between Platt’s retirement and the search and the lack of continuity that it creates, Baldree explained that an employee’s retirement brings additional costs that affect the budget. The university never makes a decision for a position while it is still occupied, he said.

“It’s very difficult for an individual to work in the shadow of someone who’s been there for a number of years,” Baldree said.

The Davenport, Wash.-based position will be a regional livestock and forage extension specialist for northeast Washington.

“We have so few people to commit to specialized roles that we have to have these people working as a team statewide,” he said. “This individual will be collaborating with a statewide animal agriculture team across the state, sharing resources and working collaboratively in terms of strategy and program delivery.”

Deer Park, Wash., sheep producer Sandra Willford said the extension position is important for ranchers because it serves as the first point of contact when a producer has a question or to tell farmers about university research.

“My biggest concern is that they’re putting one person in a position and spreading (him or her) very, very thin,” Willford said. “If we’re expanding this definition even wider from the three counties he was dealing with to all of eastern Washington, which is 10 counties, I think they’re asking an awful lot from one person to be able to effectively do it, and somebody’s going to feel left out.”

Valleyford, Wash., farmer William Demers welcomed the news that farmers and ranchers are open to work with other WSU specialists throughout the state.

“If we plan ahead, they can really tap into some good resources,” he said.

“We’re all spoiled,” said Kathy Olmstead, a Chattaroy, Wash, hay farmer and cattle rancher. “We have an old association with some of the agents, and we have to start over as associations and individuals, to see where (the new person) works in, what their expertise is....”

“The ideal outcome of this is that they find someone who knows which end of the cow he’s looking at,” Willford said.


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