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The Mid Atlantic Poultry Farmer a supplement to the Delmarva Farmer


DPI’s Porter takes long view with group’s mission

By NANCY L. SMITH
AFP Correspondent

GEORGETOWN, Del. (July 4, 2017) — Holly Porter, the new assistant executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., brings passion and commitment to the job, but she could not have foreseen this step in her career when she was young.
A daughter and granddaughter of farmers, she never planned for a career in agriculture.
“Growing up, I probably didn’t appreciate agriculture,” she says.
Despite this, she became a marketing specialist at MidAtlantic Farm Credit after graduating from Marymount University in Arlington, Va.
“For 12 years I really enjoyed working with farmers. They are some of the best people to work with,” she recalls.
Her last three years with MAFC were spent on the Delmarva Peninsula where she began to learn about the poultry industry.
From 2011 to 2013, Porter participated in the LEAD Maryland Fellowship Program¸ a collaborative effort of University of Maryland Extension and the LEAD Maryland Foundation to identify and develop leaders who will serve agriculture, natural resources and rural communities.
During her participation in LEAD projects, Porter says, “I found my passion for agriculture and started following agricultural policy.” Porter is now co-director of the LEAD Delaware program.
In 2014, she accepted a position as deputy principal assistant to then-Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee.
The job gave her an in-depth course in agriculture policy.
“I got to understand Delaware politics,” she says. “I testified before committees and built relationships with legislators.”
Porter was asked to stay on in her position by Michael T. Scuse who succeeded Kee as agriculture secretary, but “after a lot of soul searching,” she decided to leave a job she had enjoyed.
“I needed to take the leap,” she says, to DPI where plans call for her to succeed Bill Satterfield as executive director when he retires in early 2019.
“This will give me time to learn the industry and shadow Bill and learn his contacts,” she said. “I have a year and a half to learn the day-to-day activities, the strategic thinking” and other aspects of the job.
“I was extremely impressed with the DPI board [of directors],” she said, for its wisdom in bringing on a successor in advance.
As a result, she says she will be “as prepared as possibly can be” when she accedes to the executive director position.
Porter admits the learning curve in the position is formidable.
“Bill is going to be a great mentor,” she said. “The board is extremely supportive. They are knowledgeable in different aspects of the industry.”
Her DPI orientation has included visiting poultry farms with flock supervisors.
“I have had tons of poultry house tours and tons of processing plant tours. I love getting out on the farm. I learn the most when I talk with farmers and plant managers on their turf,” she says.
She says she is looking forward to seeing another aspect of the industry — she wants to watch chicken catchers loading poultry for the trip to the processing facility.
Porter acknowledges she has more to learn.
“I am looking forward to understanding each part of the industry. I want to hear from producers what their day is like, what keeps them up at night. I want to build relationships with legislators; there is a lot of opportunity out there,” said Porter, who is familiar with Delaware legislators, but has yet to meet many from Maryland or Virginia.
As the future director of the industry group, Porter already is formulating initiatives for the coming years.
“We need to build on our membership base. We need to have more members engaged on boards and committees. There are a lot of farmers out there who are great leaders but who haven’t stepped up yet. My job is to find those who would make great leaders and get them engaged and involved,” she says.
She said she also wants to see the continuation of education efforts.
“We need to tell our story. DPI recently hired James [Fisher, DPI’s new communications manager.] That’s a huge step, very proactive. We need to develop personal relationships and use social media.
“Agriculture has not been good at telling its story. Only 2 percent of the population is involved in agriculture. They need to advocate for the industry,” she said. “Everyone likes to eat, so there has got to be some common ground.”
Porter, 41, could hold the DPI directorship for decades and has come to the job with a long-term outlook.
“When I took this position, I was thinking ‘this will be where I retire.’ I feel this is where I can share my skills and passion for agriculture. “I have found the perfect job. Not only will it be good for me — I can help farmers,” she says.
As a rare female executive in the agriculture industry, Porter says that, thus far in her career, being a woman has never held her back.
“If you are good at what you do, I don’t see gender will hold you back. It is exciting to see more and more women in agriculture leadership positions.”
At a meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Porter said, she “loved seeing the number of women there — and not sitting quietly. More women are taking their leadership skill and running with it,” she said. “It is quite exciting for women in agriculture.
“There are wide-open opportunities.”
Porter lives with her husband Chris, an insurance analyst for the State of Delaware, and their daughters Madelyn, 10, and Maura, 6 in Greensboro, Md., on the Choptank River.
They enjoy crabbing, boating and fishing (“catching, not fishing,” clarifies Porter.) The family also enjoys a seasonal cabin in Chincoteague, Va.
Reflecting on her new role, Porter’s passion is evident, “The poultry industry is a great economic driver on the Delmarva in many ways. It has a direct financial impact and an indirect impact in all the towns that are tied to the industry.
“I am so excited to be a part of the industry and to help it grow.”