Arkansas Plant Board selects former agriculture secretary as new director

by George Jared ( 469 views 

The Arkansas Plant Board unanimously approved the appointment of former Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun to serve as its director. He was selected Friday after Plant Board Director Terry Walker abruptly retired July 24.

The 67-year-old told Talk Business & Politics he’s ready to get to work and will begin his new job Aug. 13.

“I love agriculture and I always have,” he said. “I know what the plant board does. I think I have something to offer.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was pleased with the Plant Board’s choice.

“I applaud the Plant Board’s unanimous vote to appoint Butch Calhoun as its new director. Butch’s years as a farmer and as a secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture give him the experience and wisdom to successfully lead the Plant Board,” Hutchinson said.

One looming issue that will have to be resolved in the coming months is the use of dicamba. The Arkansas State Plant Board allowed one formulation, Engenia dicamba, to be used during the 2017 growing season. But after the board received numerous damage-related complaints from the herbicide drifting onto non-dicamba row crop fields, gardens, and other vegetation, the board banned dicamba in July 2017, and later opted to ban it in 2018.

The Arkansas General Assembly affirmed the regulatory ban in January after months of debate and numerous meetings by lawmakers. Dicamba kills nuisance weeds, such as pig weed, that are prevalent in row crops in the Delta, especially soybeans and cotton. Studies have shown that dicamba products can be volatile when temperatures rise, especially with older formulations.

Butch Calhoun

When the temperatures rose in May 2017, the complaints began, according to ASPB. The complaints primarily centered in Northeast Arkansas, especially in Mississippi County, the highest soybean producing county in the state. By the end of the growing season, ASPB had received almost 1,000 complaints.

Calhoun said he’s aware of the issues involved with dicamba and its impacts. He said he wants to wait until he’s in office to do a full assessment of what action he thinks should be taken in regards to dicamba.

“I think its going to be a big issue, for sure,” he said.

Calhoun was a row crop farmer for 37 years. He served stints as the Prairie County Judge and serve in the Arkansas Legislature. Calhoun worked as the state’s Director of rural Services under former Gov. Mike Beebe, and spent almost two years (2012-14) as the state’s Agriculture Secretary. He retired from that position at the end of 2014. His experiences in state government, in his home county, and on the farm will help him as he begins this new job, he said.

“I’m ready for the challenge,” he said.