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Terry Walker, director of the state Plant Board since 2016, announced his retirement Tuesday, effective immediately.

Walker, 70, told some of his staff members Tuesday morning, then emailed the news to the 18 members of the Plant Board, a division of the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

In an interview later Tuesday morning, Walker said nothing specific prompted his decision. "Sometimes, you just decide it's time to go," he said.

The board has been embroiled for two years in a farmland drama over the use of a herbicide. That dispute has divided farmers -- longtime friends and neighbors, in some cases -- and manufacturers and regulators. Walker said the dicamba controversy played no role in his decision.

Walker first joined the Plant Board as director of plant industry in 2002. He was named director of the full board in February 2016 after serving about 12 years as assistant director -- a post still vacant despite the board's official overtures to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for an exemption to a general hiring freeze he put into place not long after taking office in 2015.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Hutchinson said, "I appreciate Terry's longtime service to the state and agricultural community" and "wish him the best in retirement."

"The final decision on a new director is to be made by the Plant Board," Hutchinson said. "My recommendation to the Plant Board has not been made at this time."

V.O. "Butch" Calhoun of Des Arc, who was Arkansas' secretary of agriculture from 2012-16, said Tuesday morning that Hutchinson approached him 10-14 days ago about becoming Plant Board director. "The governor asked if I'd be interested," Calhoun said. "I said I definitely would be."

The Agriculture Department was founded in 2005 (the Plant Board was founded in 1917), and Calhoun was its second secretary, appointed to the position by former Gov. Mike Beebe. "I've farmed all my life, and I have always loved public service," he said.

Calhoun served five terms as county judge in Prairie County and four terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He also served as director of the state Department of Rural Services under Beebe.

Walker said he was proud of his work with the Plant Board, noting how it grappled about 10 years ago with genetically modified rice by Bayer CropScience that tainted other rice supplies, cutting into farmers' markets for their crops.

"The Plant Board got that cleaned up, and our rice certification program has continued," he said. "We continue to make sure the rice stayed clean."

Walker also noted that boll weevils are no longer decimating Arkansas farmers' cotton crops, after the Plant Board set up a program assessing farmers a per-acre fee to eliminate the insect. "It has made cotton a much better crop," he said.

As for dicamba, a herbicide linked to damage to soybeans and other crops, Walker said the board "did the best it could with limited scientific data."

"Our actions were appropriate, given the conditions," he said, referring to decisions that include a ban this year on using dicamba in-crop. "If research shows it's reliable, then the rules can be changed, but the board took action to protect everybody out there," he said.

The board, even with the ban in place since April 16, has received about 150 dicamba complaints this summer.

While specific cases are still under investigation, Walker said time frames between the ban and complaints being filed and the type of damage found indicate some farmers continued to spray the herbicide illegally.

Business on 07/25/2018

Print Headline: Director of Plant Board is retiring

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