The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture will conduct a national search for a new Rice Research and Extension Center director. Until a director is hired, an interim director will be installed. Bob Scott, the current director, accepted the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service director’s position.
Scott has asked the recently retired Karen Moldenhauer, a professor and rice breeder for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture since 1982, to serve as interim director.
By the time Scott said, “’I want to talk to you about something,’ I’d already talked to my husband about it. I was prepared,” she said.
“I am very thankful to Dr. Moldenhauer for taking on this leadership role,” Jean-Francois Meullenet, director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research component of the Division of Agriculture. “I know she will be an outstanding director while we conduct a national search.”
“Karen has been at the station for a long time and nobody is better positioned to assume this role,” Scott said. “I also appreciate her dedication as she has delayed her retirement for a few months while we search for a permanent replacement.”
It’s not the first time Moldenhauer was in this position, having served as interim director for the center in 2001-2002.
“It’ll give me a chance to finish out my work this season,” she said. “I’m looking at what lines to advance to the Arkansas Rice Performance Trials, lines we’d like to advance to the rest of the program, working on Provisia crosses, Clearfield material — the whole breeding program.”
Moldenhauer said her predecessor has not only made her job as interim easier, but also for whomever is appointed director.
“Bob has done a great job for this station,” she said. “I think it’s in a lot better shape with many infrastructure updates and improvements and administration has been very supportive of the work we’re doing.”
Moldenhauer received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Iowa State, followed by a masters in plant breeding and cytogenetics from North Carolina State. She returned to Iowa State for a Ph.D. in plant breeding.
During her 38-year tenure at the Division of Agriculture, 38 rice cultivars have been released to producers which have been grown on 21 million acres.
Moldenhauer’s primary research focuses on improving grain yield, cooking quality characteristics and disease resistance. Her releases Drew, Kaybonnet, and Katy were the first commercially available cultivars with resistance to all of the common blast races in the southern U.S. growing region. They have provided a source of rice blast resistance to the rice breeding groups in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Cultivars released under her direction helped state average rice yields to increase from 95 bushels per acre in 1982 to as high as 168 bushels per acre in 2013 and 2014. These varieties have averaged between 50 and 60 percent of the rice acreage in any given year from 1982 until 2009, when the hybrids became popular. Since then the Arkansas varieties have averaged between 20 and 30 percent of the Arkansas acreage. Her 2016 release, Diamond, was grown on 20 percent of the state’s rice acreage in 2018.
In 2002, Moldenhauer was named the first holder of the Rice Industry Chair for Variety Development in 2002, a position she still holds.