UACES Facebook iLEAD Tours Stuttgart and Lonoke
skip to main content

iLEAD Tours Stuttgart and Lonoke

by Dee Henderson, Administrative Support Supervisor, Rice Research and Extension Center - March 3, 2023

As a member of iLEAD Cohort II and an employee of the Rice Research and Extension Center (RREC), I am writing about the place I call my second home.

Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart, AR

Photo collage of rice research and extension center showing people, plants, and building interiors

The field tours are all too familiar to me because I began working in the field as an hourly employee, which is equivalent to an agriculture technician position today. I worked in the breeding program in the middle of the summer and determined that I was not built for outside work. Well, after days of seeing little snakes, crawfish, and tomato worms, I realized that this was not for me. I applied for an office job as a clerk typist that led me to where I am today.

Dr. Glenn Bathke, RREC assistant director and director of Arkansas Foundation Seed, opened the seminar with a warm welcome and introduction to the station. He stated the mission set by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is to promote Arkansas agriculture.

Dr. Yeshi Wamishe, plant pathologist, reminded us that plant diseases are real problems. Some of the major diseases include Kernel smut, False smut, Blast, Bacterial panicle blight, Sheath Blight, Straight head, etc. There are no chemicals that can be used in the United States to control all these diseases. For instance, rice blast in susceptible rice varieties can cause 100% yield loss. Diseases typically are not uniform over an entire field so identifying hotspots in a field is critical to know how to control the diseases in a farmer’s field.

Courtland Hemphill, program associate, had the opportunity to discuss the high night-time temperature (HNT) project. The HNT project conducts experiments using controlled climate facilities including a greenhouse and growth chambers. The project began by screening Arkansas rice varieties to determine susceptibility to high night temperatures. New populations using a heat tolerant cultivar and high yielding Arkansas varieties were generated. Genetic data was collected from the populations and is being analyzed to develop markers to assist breeding efforts in the creation of new varieties that are high yielding and resistant to high night temperature.

Dr. Xueyan Sha, senior rice breeder, displayed many steps in the breeding process that they use to develop new varieties at RIRE and winter nurseries in Puerto Rico. Molecular marker technology has shortened the time it takes to bring these varieties to market, thereby, enhancing the profitability of the rice farmer. He also discussed how difficult is to compete with RiceTec and Nutrien.

Dr. Alton Johnson, RREC director, spoke on his journey to leadership from working as a dean, research director, and extension administrator at two historically black land grant universities to currently working as director at RIRE. He also provided great insights on the importance of leadership. He said, “Leadership is about the people you lead and not about you the leader, and learn how to collaborate with legislators to make a positive impact in people’s lives.” He prepared himself through management and leadership trainings to understand strategies for leading successful change. He stated that there are four groups of people. There are people that know how to do a job but will not help, so coach them. There are people who do not know the job but want to help, so teach them. There are people who know the job and want to help, give them the responsibility with authority. Also, there are people who don’t know the job and don’t want to help, let them go because they are distractions. He said that he strongly believes in situational leadership and is transformational in his overall approach to leading an organization.  

Dr. Ehsan Shakiba, senior wheat breeder, had the pleasure of introducing the wheat breeding program and activities in the greenhouse. He showed how his team make crosses and later develop and release new wheat cultivars. He shared that wheat self-pollinate; therefore, it requires emasculation on female plants before pollination. The viable pollens are yellow in color, and they shape them on the female plant and cover the female plants with crossing bags. One month later, the first generation of seed resulting from a cross making two parents are harvested. The following season, those collected seeds (aka F1 generation) are planted in the field.

Dr. Chris Henry, irrigation engineer, stated too much rain and too little rain are factors that can cause risks to the farmer’s profitability. A farmer can mitigate this risk through irrigation and water management practices such as using soil moisture sensors. Dr. Henry is responsible for developing a soil moisture sensor school that allow farmers to participate in an irrigation yield contest based on who can achieve the maximum yield with the least amount of irrigation. The irrigation yield contest is a vehicle to showcase sustainable practices using technology as an aid.

Dr. Bathke gave a tour of the Foundation Seed conditioning facility. The entire rice breeding process comes to fruition when they release new varieties from the breeders and make them available to the rice farmers. It takes the entire team of scientists at RIRE over several years to develop these improved varieties. This facility was built with the latest seed cleaning technology and funded by the check off funds available through the Arkansas Rice Research, Soybean, and Wheat Promotion Boards as well as contributions from the University.

Lonoke Extension Center

Photo collage of Lonoke Extension Center showing plants and a man holding a petri dish

We were welcomed by Dr. Travis Faske, Lonoke Extension Center director. The Lonoke center provides research-based advice for farmers and families. We know that Lonoke County is known as the bait fish production capital of the world where they hold the largest goldfish, grass carp, minnows, and hybrid striped bass game and fish hatcheries. In addition, county ag agents recommend management practices to beef cattle producers to improve the efficiency and profits of their beef cattle. Dr. Faske and Jody Swint gave the iLead team a tour of the facilities and farm equipment.

We got a chance to tour Jody’s plants in the greenhouse. She educated us about where their funding comes from.

4-H Shooting Sports

Photo collage of iLEAD practicing 4-H shooting sports, including a rifle, bow and arrow, and an axe

Next, we visited University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's grounds in Lonoke where Jesse Bocksnick, 4-H outdoor skills coordinator, led us into the game of thrones. He gave a very detailed class and demonstration on how to handle weapons. We had lots of fun participating in sports that included shooting discs with a 12-gauge shotgun, shooting with a bow and arrow, and throwing an axe. What I like about iLEAD is there is always a 4-H component implemented in the seminar that keeps us more active. That event led me to start volunteering with 4-H members. I’m making contacts now.

The iLEAD program enhances interpersonal skills through virtual and in-person sessions, providing participants with knowledge, skills, and opportunities for growth. For more information about the iLEAD program contact Dr. Julie Robinson, or Lisa Davis,