January 8, 2024
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is slated to add six new members to its ranks this year. Inductees include the late Dr. George Berger, who served as dean of the Arkansas State University College of Agriculture from 1971-1981 and founded the Eagle Seed business in his hometown of Weiner; Dr. Fred Bourland of Blytheville, a cotton breeder who created more than 100 improved cotton varieties adapted to Arkansas; Dr. Mark Cochran of Fayetteville, retired vice president of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture; the late Melvin Daniel of Hot Springs, a long-time ag education instructor and FFA advisor; Dr. Charles Looney, a nationally recognized cattle geneticist; and Gary Sitzer of Weiner, a fourth-generation rice and soybean farmer who has been highly involved in research and policy work in support of Arkansas agriculture.
“What an amazing group of farmers and those who help our farmers make agriculture Arkansas’ No. 1 business sector,” said Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Chair Debbie Moreland of Roland. “Agriculture is such a critical cultural and economic part of Arkansas. It is what binds so much of our state together."
“These we will induct have made a national impact on rice, soybeans, cattle and cotton and have helped steer the academic and research efforts that underpin Arkansas agriculture."
“I say this often to my friends, and it bears repeating; agriculture is one of the great success stories of our state. The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is pleased to bring recognition to these individuals who have impacted our state’s largest industry in such a positive way.”
Class XXXVI induction ceremonies are set for 11:30 a.m. March 1 at the Grand Ballroom of the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock. Contact Cindra Jones at 501-228-1609 for ticket information or click here to purchase tickets online.
Dr. George Berger, Jr. was a second-generation rice, soybean, and wheat farmer, who taught at Arkansas State University from 1971-1981 and served as dean of the College of Agriculture. Dr. Berger started the plant breeding program at A-State and released dozens of varieties that helped farmers across the mid-south. He helped start A-State’s agriculture master's degree program, signed a collaborative agreement to share resources and educational staff from A-State and the University of Arkansas, and started a night school that could be attended by working professionals.
Soon after he left A-State, he founded the Eagle Seed Company, where his focus was private plant breeding and producing soybean seed in northeast Arkansas, Mexico and South America. Berger also returned to farming after leaving A-State. His children and grandchildren operate the farm and Eagle Seed company today.
Berger passed away April 16, 2002. The George A. Berger Memorial Scholarship at A-State was established in 2003 and continues to help deserving agriculture students.
Dr. George Berger, Jr.
Fred Bourland has spent the bulk of his life in an Arkansas cotton field where his work on genetic varieties have enhanced the profitability of farmers. He grew up on a cotton farm in Mississippi County, south of Manila (more specifically between Lost Cane and Whistleville). He went to the University of Arkansas, he says, to escape the cotton farm, though his studies there led him straight back to the cotton field and Arkansas agriculture is the benefactor of that serendipity.
With PhD in hand in 1978, Bourland went to work as an assistant professor and cotton breeder at Mississippi State University. In 1988, he came back to Arkansas as a professor to breed cotton varieties and teach at the Bumpers College of Agriculture. In 1997, Bourland moved to Keiser – roughly 10 miles from his family’s Mississippi County farm – to continue his cotton breeding and research program while serving as director for the Northeast Research and Extension Center. In 2016, he stepped down as director and now focuses all his energy on cotton variety development.
Including graduate school, Bourland has spent more than 50 years working the field he thought he was walking away from when he left for college.
His accolades are many, including the 2000 Genetics Research Award from the National Cotton Council, the 2010 International Cotton Researcher of the Year from the International Cotton Advisory Committee and the 2015 Cotton Research and Promotion Program Hall of Fame from the Cotton Board and Cotton, Inc., among others.
Mark Cochran spent 40 years working to improve the productivity and profitability of Arkansas farmers and ranchers as a faculty member at the University of Arkansas, including 10 years as vice president of agriculture for the UA System Division of Agriculture.
Cochran served as chairman of the national Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, which awarded him the President’s Award. One of the most significant accomplishments of Cochran’s career was the creation of the COTMAN program, a computer-based cotton production guide widely used by farmers to help manage costs and improve yield efficiencies. He also led efforts to obtain funding for the construction of the Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Sciences in Fayetteville, the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center in Harrisburg and the expansion of the highly successful Arkansas Discovery Farms program, which now encompasses 13 farms and delivers scientific analysis to help determine the effectiveness of on-farm conservation practices.
Cochran came to Arkansas in 1982 to start his teaching career after earning his master’s and PhD in agricultural economics from Michigan State. He earned a bachelor’s degree from New Mexico State.
A native of Bismarck, Melvin Daniel spent 37 years as an agriculture education teacher in Glenwood, Lake Hamilton and Foreman School districts, with 33 of those spent at Lake Hamilton, he helped produce Lake Hamilton’s first FFA state officer, its first American Degree Recipient and trained 33 state-winning FFA judging teams. In his honor, Lake Hamilton has named its school farm The Melvin Daniel Lake Hamilton FFA Farm.
After retiring from teaching, Daniel worked six years as the director of the Master Gardeners program with the Garland County Cooperative Extension Service. He also had a strong passion for raising Black Angus/Limousine cattle and spent a large amount of his time building up a quality herd.
As a result of Melvin’s lifelong commitment to agriculture, he was awarded the Honorary Chapter FFA Degree, Honorary State FFA Degree and even the highest honor a non-FFA member can receive: The Honorary American FFA Degree. He was also named a County Agent of the Year and was recently inducted into the Legendary Owl Hall of Fame, which honors those who strongly and positively impact the future of Agriculture in Arkansas.
Daniel passed away Aug. 23, 2023.
Cattle have been a large part of Dr. Charles Looney’s life since he was a young boy in Camden. He is recognized internationally as an expert in cattle genetics and reproductive technologies. He spent 35 years in the industry in Texas before returning to his home state in 2018 as professor of cattle genetic improvement for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. His expertise centers on embryo transfer, in-vitro fertilization, tissue banking for cloning, timed breeding and on-the-farm use of these technologies to improve beef cattle genetics.
Looney, an Arkansas native with graduate degrees from the University of Arkansas and Louisiana State University, founded two cattle genetics companies in Texas, namely OvaGenix and Ultimate Genetics, after serving as a scientist and consultant in the field for several years. While he was working for Granada Biosciences, he was part of the team that produced the first embryo-derived bovine clones. His work at Ultimate Genetics included the world’s first transgenic cloned calves and the first cloned bull.
He has worked with cattlemen across the United States as well as Panama, Argentina, Australia, France, Great Britain, Mexico, India, Brazil and Columbia.
Looney earned the President’s Award for Outstanding Service from the American Embryo Transfer Association in 2019 and an Award of Distinction from the University of Arkansas in 2014. The Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association presented him with its Producer Education Award in 2022.
Dr. Charles Looney
A full-time farmer for more than 45 years, Gary Sitzer has taken his love of agriculture beyond his Poinsett County farm and has served for 38 years as an Arkansas director for Farm Credit. He previously served as a member of both the Arkansas Soybean Research and Promotion Board and Arkansas Soybean Association board and currently serves on Rep. Rick Crawford’s Ag Advisory Committee.
Sitzer was elected to serve on the Poinsett County Farm Bureau board of directors in 1976. While attending Arkansas State University, he took a full class load while also working on his family’s farm in Weiner.
As chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Association, Sitzer led the launch of the soybean yield challenge, now known as “Grow for the Green,” which started with seven growers in eastern Arkansas more than 20 years ago to around 150 growers statewide today.
Sitzer also previously served on the Poinsett County Emergency Food and Shelter board. He graduated in 1985 from LeadAR, the UA Division of Agriculture’s rural leadership development program, and his family was named Poinsett County Farm Family of the Year in 1995.
The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas Farm Bureau. The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame was originated by Paul Harvel, C.R. Sawrie and Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce in 1987. The program seeks to build public awareness of agriculture; and to honor/recognize past and current leaders who have given selflessly to the farm industry, their communities and to economic development in the state.