College of Agriculture and Natural Resources alumna Mary Ellen Setting, shown at a watermelon festival, is serving as the deputy secretary of agriculture for the state of Maryland.

Deputy secretary

CANR alumna reflects on introduction to agriculture, Maryland post

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9:10 a.m., Jan. 27, 2014--When Mary Ellen Setting attended the University of Delaware, she never envisioned herself as one day serving as the deputy secretary of agriculture for the state of Maryland. 

In fact, before coming to UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Setting — who grew up in the city in downtown Wilmington — had very little interaction with agriculture at all. 

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Now, after a little over 36 years working at the state of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture, Setting has learned a thing or two about the subject. 

Setting said her initial introduction to agriculture came as a youth, when she and her mother would travel to the King Street Farmers Market and interact with the farmers there. A farmer would deliver fresh eggs and fruit and vegetables to her house, and that same farmer would take his customers out to his farm as a sort of customer appreciation day.

But other than that, Setting had very little background in the field when she chose to study entomology at UD. 

“Coming to the University of Delaware in the entomology department, that’s really where I got my main introduction to agriculture,” said Setting, who majored in entomology and applied ecology, learning things like wildlife management and ornithology along the way. 

After working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., doing pesticide registration, Setting was hired as an entomologist trainee at the Maryland Department of Agriculture in 1977.

She went on to be promoted to section chief for the pesticide regulation section in 1988, and served as the first woman president of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials in 1994 before becoming the assistant secretary of plant industries and pest management for the agency in 2004.

Setting was appointed deputy secretary in 2009. 

The job entails being directly accountable for the day-to-day operations of the department and providing leadership to upper level managers as well as all of the department’s 400 employees.

Setting said she is also “responsible for setting policy, determining procedures and more or less guiding the direction of our programs and the activities here at the department.” 

Setting said her job does not have a set day-to-day routine, and that while one day she could be testifying before the Maryland General Assembly on legislation that affects either the department’s programs or agriculture, she could also be participating in a commodity conference, going to a trade show for the nursery industry, or heading out on the ice cream trail to promote the state’s dairies.

Of all her job requirements, however, Setting said that her favorite is meeting and working with farmers. “We’ve got very knowledgeable and innovative farmers here in Maryland,” she said, adding, “They’re always looking for new angles, new ways to add value to their production.”

Setting added that getting to know the farmers and learning from them, as well as learning about their operations, has been an important experience in her work for the state. “I’ve had several farmers that have taken me under their wing over the years and showed me how to treat the farming industry, how to regulate them, and how to get cooperation from them. So I’ve had a lot of folks over the years help me along the way.” 

Setting, who joined the Maryland Department of Agriculture at the age of 24, said she has grown up in the department and enjoys that the people she works with “share the enthusiasm that I have for agriculture. They work very hard at it. They work hard for farmers and I’ve been fortunate to have the relationships I’ve had, not only with my co-workers but with the folks outside of this department, the whole industry. I feel very blessed that I’ve had these opportunities.” 

As for advice for current CANR students, Setting said that agriculture is a wonderful field to get into, one that is important not only for the individual but for the country as a whole. “Having the opportunity to be in that field is pretty exciting and students should take advantage of that and focus on what interests them but not be afraid to go outside of their comfort zones and look into new areas because you just never know where that will take you,” Setting said. 

She also encouraged students to build on the relationships they gain from being in the field. 

Article by Adam Thomas

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