Walker excited about opportunity to lead Horizon, 2014 rice crop

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Rice breeder and agronomist Tim Walker made a career change a few months ago. Fortunately for rice farmers, he didn’t go far.

After 14 years working as a scientist at Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., Dr. Walker became general manager of Horizon Ag, the company which markets Clearfield rice varieties.

Horizon Ag held its first field day under Walker’s supervision on the Mark Wimpy Farm near Jonesboro, Ark., on Friday (Aug. 8). Afterwards, Walker talked about the career change, Horizon Ag’s direction and his thoughts about this year’s rice crop.

“I’ve been very excited about the progress we’ve made within the company,” he said. “The year that we’ve had is a very good year considering some of the factors that were playing somewhat against us this year. I think we have a bright future ahead for Horizon Ag.”

Walker addressed an issue that has been on the minds of many in the rice industry in the interview – the perceived problems with the quality of U.S. rice exports in the minds of some of its traditional buyers in central and South America.

“We have heard loud and clear from our buyers in other countries as well as our domestic markets that U.S. rice quality is not where they would like to see it,” Walker said. “We have continued to work with our breeding partners in our industry to bring a new set of lines to the farmer to grow that will improve the overall quality of U.S. rice.

“U.S. rice has always held a standard of being very good quality rice. And we still think that we have a good product, but there are certainly improvements, and we’re excited about the lines that we be bringing forward in the next couple of years to help that quality.”

During the field day, Walker was asked to talk about a new variety that developed while on the staff at the Delta Research and Extension Center. Walker described what he had seen from the variety but declined to go beyond his own experience with the line.

The Horizon general manager was asked about forecasts of increased rice planting in the Southern Rice Belt and about the prospects for this year’s crop.

“No. 1, it’s good to see rice back, so to speak,” he noted. “We’ve seen very low acreage. I mean going back to the 1970s is where we are in terms of acreage in 2013. To see us come back more towards the normal acreage in the Southern U.S. is encouraging for the rice industry.”

Very little rice had been harvested when Walker was interviewed on Aug. 8. “The bulk of the harvest is still before us. So we won’t know what we have until the combines get in the field,” he said.

“We had a number of challenges early on this year with the weather conditions. But , all in all, when you look at the mild summer we’ve had, cool nighttime temperatures, not excessive daytime temperatures, the crop looks exceptionally well, and I think the potential is there to have another good-yielding crop.”

While last year saw record low acreage, it also produced record high yields. “So it will be a challenge with more acres coming back onto the scene this year to raise the record again,” he noted. “But certainly the weather we had after we got the crop going and established could help push that record if things continue like they have over the next month or so.”

Walker said he was grateful for the number of farmers and industry representatives who attended the field at the Mark Wimpy Farm. The rainfall that has occurred almost on schedule across the Mid-South this summer forced some shuffling of stops at the field day. But Walker said Horizon and Wimpy Farms employees responded to the challenge.

(For more information on Mark Wimpy and W&W Farms, see http://deltafarmpress.com/rice/farm-bill-input-costs-and-quality-are-top-rice-producer-concerns?page=4

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