Just to keep her hand in, so to speak, Tami Kerr still visits and helps out on the family dairy farm in Tillamook County.
“I was 11 when I started milking,” she says. “It still is a favorite job.”
That continued connection should provide a solid grounding as Kerr moves into her new job as executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. She starts work Feb. 1, replacing the well-regarded Jim Krahn, who retired.
Kerr comes to the position from Oregon State University, where she’s headed the Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation for the past 14 years. The program promotes agricultural “literacy,” in part by working with teachers, organizing “Plant-A-Seed” field trips and providing classroom materials such as maps of where Oregon crops are grown.
She’d previously worked for Landmark Genetics Inc., an animal breeding business, but the OSU job appealed to her interest in education and in seeing agriculture accurately represented and explained in the classroom. “Teaching students where their food comes from,” Kerr said.
Kerr said she was perfectly happy in her OSU job when the dairy association board came calling and urged her to apply.
“That was humbling,” she said. “I was familiar with the position, but I hadn’t thought of myself in that capacity.”
The association, she said, wanted someone with a dairy background and with her ties to OSU’s College of Agricultural Science, to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and to commodity groups. It was an offer that appealed to her sense of where she came from.
“I thought it would be interesting and challenging,” Kerr said. Part of the job will involve outreach to dairy farmers who don’t have time to stay on top of issues, she said.
Gervais dairy farmer Jerome Rosa said the association is excited to have Kerr take the position.
“She is a self-starter that is well-connected throughout all of Oregon,” Rosa said in an email. “Her enthusiasm for the dairy industry is unparalleled.”
Kerr said she’s getting up to speed on issues, including GMOs, CAFO regulations, food safety and animal care. Oregon has about 270 dairy farms, most of them family operations and some of them organic, and about 120,000 dairy cows.
Kerr will speak farmers’ language. Her family in Tillamook has operated a dairy, Mistvale Farm Inc., for more than 40 years. Her parents, Marion and Anita Fletcher; brother Daryl Fletcher; and sister Kristi Sherer are active in the business. In addition, her husband, Bryan Kerr, works for Helena Chemical Co., which sells crop protection and productivity inputs.
“I want to help continue an environment where we have dairy producers,” she said, “and they have a viable future.”