Two Southeast Arkansas men whose leadership and service have brought distinction to Arkansas agriculture, are among the six Arkansans who will be inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.
The inductees from Southeast Arkansas are O.H. “Doogie” Darling of Crossett and former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry of Gillette.
Other inductees are J. Keith Smith of Hot Springs, Leroy Isbell of England, Ruben H. Johnson of Magazine and Keith Lusby of Fayetteville, according to an Arkansas Farm Bureau news release.
The group will be honored at the 26th annual induction luncheon on March 7, at 11:30 a.m. in the Ambassador Ballroom of Little Rock‟s Embassy Suites Hotel. Luncheon tickets are $35 each and are available by calling (501) 228-1470 or email [email protected]
Darling, a retired forester of Georgia-Pacific Corporation and former commissioner of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, has been revered as one of the most respected leaders in forestry for five decades.
At the peak of his career, Darling managed three 3 million acres of Georgia-Pacific’s timberland. He was one of the pioneers of a landowner assistance program that provided management advice and forestry services to South Arkansas farmers struggling to make ends meet following the Depression and World War II.
“My greatest accomplishment was being able to help farmers make their forest productive again after the virgin timber had been cut in the early part of the 20th century which allowed me to watch our forests develop over my 44-year forestry career,” Darling said. “It is a great honor to be nominated to the Ag Hall of Fame.”
Darling, 85, earned his forestry technician certificate from Arkansas A&M College (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello). He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Louisiana State University and a master’s in forestry from Yale University.
In the 1950s, Darling was a young forester working for the Fordyce Lumber Company where he pioneered the first landowner assistance program, a new innovation in the forest industry at the time. This program combined a forester’s knowledge with landowners struggling to make ends meet following the Great Depression and World War II. The program helped farmers generate a supplemental income from their farm woodlots through scientifically based forest management and improve the value of their property while improving the forestland’s health and productivity.
When Georgia-Pacific bought the Fordyce Lumber Company, Darling continued his landowner assistance efforts, further expanding the program. At the peak of Darling’s career, he was responsible for managing 3 million acres of Georgia-Pacific timberland, delivering wood to 28 forest production mills in eight states.
After retiring from Georgia-Pacific, Darling served on the board of director’s for Deltic Timber for 12 years. He has been a member of the Arkansas Forestry Association for almost 50 years and served as its president in 1988 to 1989. He is also a member of the Arkansas Foresters’ Hall of Fame and mentored many young foresters throughout the state.
Berry, former presidential adviser to President Bill Clinton and former member of U.S. House of Representatives, served on the House Agriculture Committee during the writing of the 2002 farm bill and promoted agriculture worldwide.
Chad Causey, who was the former congressman’s chief of staff, lauded Berry’s efforts to end the Cuba embargo.
“In the years to come, the Cuban embargo will fade into history along with other bygone vestiges of the Cold War. When it finally happens, Marion Berry probably won’t be mentioned in that story, but he should be,” Causey said. “During his time in Congress, Berry tirelessly championed the cause for direct cash sales of agriculture products to Cuba. It was his early effort in bringing together human rights groups and the agriculture industry that began the erosion of the embargo.”
Despite earning a pharmacy degree from the University of Arkansas, Berry, 71, has always had farming in his blood and used practices learned on the farm to become an influential political figure in Arkansas agriculture. The Arkansas County rice and soybean farmer from Gillett would eventually travel to Washington, D.C. to promote agriculture worldwide.
While serving as governor, Clinton appointed Berry to the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission where he served from 1986 to 1994.
When Clinton was elected president, he took Berry to Washington with him, appointing him as his special assistant for Agricultural Trade and Food Assistance, and as a presidential adviser on the White House Domestic Policy Council.
In those roles, Berry advised Clinton and made sure the president was well versed on agricultural issues affecting Arkansas and the rest of the country. His efforts resulted in policy implementation promoting agriculture, trade and rural prosperity.
In 1996, Berry was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, winning by a small margin. But in the next six elections, Berry would win with close to two-thirds of the vote or more. During that time, he was a major advocate for lifting the trade ban on Cuba, so Arkansas rice farmers could regain trade opportunities.
Berry served in Congress until 2011.
Leroy Isbell, the owner and operator of Isbell Farms. Isbell pioneered zero grading of rice fields in Arkansas that led to tremendous water savings and many other benefits for agriculture. As a result of zero grading his rice fields and being the first to harvest Japanese rice varieties in the United States, Leroy and his son Chris were recognized as 1996 Rice Farmers of the Year by Rice Farming Magazine.
Ruben H. Johnson, a retired employee of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Johnson worked in a variety of capacities while in the UACES, ultimately becoming its interim director. His greatest accomplishment would come with the initiation of the Research Verification Program, a program that took research and applied it to actual farming situations through on-farm demonstrations.
Keith Lusby, a retired professor and head of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas. Lusby was responsible for a major Animal Science Department renovation and building program where more than $10 million was raised during his 16 years as department head. His efforts increased scholarship endowments, enrollment numbers and faculty positions to the program.
J. Keith Smith, the late pioneer in the development of the broiler industry in south Arkansas which presently employees 38,000 Arkansans and contributes $3.3 billion statewide. Smith was CEO of the Keith Smith Company until 1981 when he appointed his son James Keith Smith, II, as president.
The mission of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is to build public awareness of agriculture and to formally recognize and honor individuals whose selfless efforts have led to significant contributions to agriculture‟s impact on the prosperity of local communities and the state. The Agriculture Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas Farm Bureau.