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Leadership group tours agricutlural sites

Andy Bourelle

Creeks, cows and compost.

About 24 Douglas County residents, representing a variety of communities and professions, spent all day Wednesday learning about these aspects of agricultural life.

The members of Leadership Douglas County, a year-long class provided by the Carson Valley and Tahoe Douglas Chambers of Commerce and Visitors Authority, toured Valley farms and waterways, listened to farmers and ranchers, looked at cows, and took a hay ride through a field of compost.

The day-long event was designed to educate the members about the environment, agriculture and water supply of Douglas County.

“I think the class of 1997 got the same thing out of the day as the class of 1996, and that is it’s a big eyeopener,” said Debra Lang, a planning committee chairperson for Leadership Douglas County and a graduate of the 1996 class. “I think the lesson I learned last year is that we have a beautiful Valley, and it may not be here later.”

The day included presentations at different farms about hay, beef and dairy production, with each speaker commenting on the difficulties and risks of farming, how some years brought profit while others didn’t.

“Carson Valley farming is in trouble, it’s not economically sound,” Lang said at the end of the day. “I think that’s the message everyone’s getting.”

At the Mack Land & Cattle Co., owner Renee Mack and Jacques Etchegoyhen, county commission chairman and one of two employees on the ranch, talked about hay production. While the costs of equipment continue to rise, the price of hay doesn’t.

The presentation gave examples of increasing equipment prices such as the cost of a large tractor was $8,500 in 1967, $75,000 in 1987 and $105,000 in 1997. Etchegoyhen told the group hay prices were now lower than they were in 1870.

“What can Leadership (Douglas County) do to help?” Mack asked rhetorically. “When you hear ‘keep the Valley green,’ remember who’s doing it.”

While talking about beef production at his ranch, Dal Byington had similar comments. He predicted there would be no farming 50 years from now because of how difficult it is to make a profit. He said he thought Valley ranches would be divided into 40- or 120-acre estates.

“We’re sitting next to a jewel that will bring a lot of people here,” Byington said. “This is a beautiful Valley. Thirty years from now, it’s probably not going to be as beautiful.”

Later at another stop, Craig Witt, owner of Milky Way Farm Inc., said his farm also had difficulty making a profit in dairy farming. With the ever-changing prices of milk, he described dairy farming as a roller coaster. While the price of milk was at an all-time high at the end of 1996, it is now lower than it’s been since 1991.

To supplement their income, he and his wife have implemented other farm-related activities at Milky Way.

Caren Witt gives tours of the farm to recreation groups and schools. Four years ago, the Witts started charging for the tours and had about 500 children take the tours. They estimated they will have almost 6,000 childen tour the farm in 1997.

Craig Witt said he has recently been learning about and working with compost. Speaking to the interested group, he described his recent discoveries and explained that the key to fertile soil was composting.

After his presentation, he took the leadership class for a hay ride, showing his compost, milk cows and feed displays.

Guides for the day were ranchers Dan Hickey and Arnold Settelmeyer.

Settelmeyer spoke about water supply and quality, emphasizing that residents and officials need to better communicate about the Carson River.

“The flood was last January, and most people have forgotten about it,” Settelmeyer said. “So what about 10 years from now.”

The purpose of the leadership class is to educate and inform Valley residents, to help them to become better leaders in the community.

Every month the class takes similar day-long trips to learn about different aspects of life in Douglas County. An example of another trip was the education day in May, where the class learned about the Douglas County School District, Western Nevada Community College and the University of Nevada, Reno.

This is the second year for Leadership Douglas County. About 25 people are accepted into the class, and people interested in the 1998 class may obtain an application by contacting the Chamber of Commerce.

State Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen accompanied the class.