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Jammy Turner, a member of the state Plant Board, doesn't consider himself a full-time farmer but believes he is qualified for the particular position he holds.

State law, Arkansas Code 2-16-206, sets the criteria for the Plant Board's 18 members, with positions specifically for "two farmers actively and principally engaged in farming in this state, appointed by the governor."

Turner is a sales representative for Monsanto. Asked if he considers himself a farmer, Turner this week said, "I do not, not as a full-time farmer, but it [farming] is one of our sources of income."

Turner has asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reappoint him when his two-year term expires March 17.

"My wife and I own an investment in our family farm in Gillett," he said. "That farm is in a trust and run by a farm management company, but we're involved in the decision making."

Southern Agronomic Resources, in nearby DeWitt, farms the 1,800 acres, Turner said.

Turner said he doesn't file paperwork normally required of farmers, such as the Schedule F, listing farm income with the Internal Revenue Service. He said he also doesn't file a form FSA-578 with the Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, listing crops grown and acreage farmed each year. The DeWitt company files those, he said.

The family farm is incorporated with the secretary of state's office as Elton Gordon Farms Inc. Neither Turner nor his wife, Laura, are listed as officers. The corporation, he said, files any necessary documents, such as Form K-1, for shareholders, he said.

When he's on the farm, he said, he drives his truck, but on occasion, a tractor. "I don't do much [with the] combine," he said. He said he's uncertain what will be planted this year. "We're struggling with that right now, but probably soybeans, rice and corn," he said.

Turner has been with Monsanto since January 2002. "I've been very transparent from the beginning about that," he said.

His income from Monsanto and the family farm varies, but Turner estimated that farming represented 20 percent of his income each of the past two years.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Hutchinson, said Wednesday, "The governor is confident in Mr. Turner's qualifications to serve on the board."

Turner's appointment, or his employment, didn't receive much attention until last summer when the Plant Board received dozens of complaints that cotton, soybeans, fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants had been damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba, a herbicide.

Monsanto at the time was awaiting federal approval for its new herbicide, called Xtendimax, a dicamba formulation that legally could be sprayed across the top of soybeans and cotton engineered by Monsanto to be tolerant of the herbicide. Many farmers with damage to crops not dicamba-tolerant blamed Monsanto for the problem because it marketed the new seeds before it won approval for the accompanying herbicide.

As the Plant Board held a series of meetings and a public hearing that attracted more than 100 farmers, Turner recused from voting but not from the discussion before those votes. Turner said he believed not voting was enough to resolve any conflicts of interest.

"I do think I went far enough," he said. "I did have a lot of discussions internally with our [Plant Board] staff attorney and the [attorney general] and internally with Monsanto. I've been trained extensively with Monsanto and the attorney general's office ... to recognize those times when a conflict is present and how to handle that appropriately. I think I probably stepped back at times further than necessary when there was even an appearance of a conflict."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency eventually approved a label for Xtendimax, but the Plant Board voted in November not to register the product in Arkansas this growing season. Hutchinson endorsed the Plant Board's decision.

The board said it has long been its policy that new products be tested by a third party, especially by specialists with the University of Arkansas' Agriculture Division. Monsanto didn't allow UA weed scientists to test the product for any tendency to drift, or to volatilize on humid days with little or no wind, and spread to neighboring crops or plants not dicamba-tolerant.

The farmers who illegally sprayed dicamba last season had used older, and more volatile, formulations. None of those formulations was manufactured by Monsanto, the company said.

Turner said he has applied for reappointment but hasn't yet heard from the governor's office.

He said he approached the Hutchinson administration two years ago about "my interest to serve in some capacity, preferably in agriculture."

"We were very transparent in the very beginning about where I worked, who I worked for and my engagement with the family farm," he said. "I was assured by the governor's office that I met the criteria and qualifications." He said he sought the position on his own.

Turner holds one of two positions appointed by the governor to represent farmers statewide. A peanut grower from Pocahontas holds the other.

The 16 other Plant Board members include two nonvoting representatives of the University of Arkansas' Agriculture Division.

The governor has five other appointees to represent cotton growers, rice growers and the fertilizer, livestock and forage industries. State law says those appointees must be "actively engaged" in their respective businesses.

Nine industry groups in horticulture, nurseries, seed growers, pest control management, seed dealers, feed manufacturers, pesticide manufacturers, aerial applicators and foresters elect a Plant Board representative from among their ranks. The board elects a chairman from its membership.

Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Wednesday that nearly all of the governor's appointees to state boards and commissions, including the Plant Board, require Senate consent.

"Now, maybe we haven't always held to that in the past, and it may be difficult for us to be the watchdog, but we're going to stress it," Maloch said. He said the Senate has informed the governor's office and bill drafters in the Bureau of Legislative Research that it will begin enforcing Senate rules and state law concerning appointments.

Turner's appointment had nothing to do with the change, Maloch said. "We're going to start running all these by the rules committee, and the rules committee will make its recommendation" to the full Senate, Maloch said.

Business on 03/09/2017

Print Headline: Member defends position on board

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