In US former Liberian researcher appointed new director of rice center

Coming to Arkansas as the new director of the Rice Research and Extension Center at Stuttgart, Alton Johnson said, is like coming home.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in general agriculture from the University of Liberia in his native country, Johnson came to the United States in his mid-20s to earn a master’s degree in agronomy from Mississippi State University.

But he counts his career as beginning with a doctorate in agronomy from the University of Arkansas, where he spent a lot of time working with scientists from the University of Arkansas System’s Agriculture Division.

“I was introduced to Arkansas research at the Rice Research and Extension Center and did a lot of my doctoral research at the cotton station [now the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station] at Marianna,” Johnson said. “It’s like a calling for me, and I’m very, very excited.”

“We are pleased to have Dr. Alton Johnson on board to lead our efforts at the Rice Research and Extension Center,” said Mark Cochran, vice president of agriculture for the Agriculture Division. “He comes to us with broad experience in administration, research and extension through two 1890 land grant universities as well as his international academic background.”

“He understands the challenges and complexities of agriculture and the critical mission we serve for our stakeholders,” Cochran said. “All of those qualities are essential to lead a station whose work is important to our state, which is the nation’s top rice producer.”

“We expect that Dr. Johnson will work closely with Dr. Tim Burcham, the director of the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center, and these two will provide exemplary leadership from the centers so that the division can conduct the research and extension programs so critical for the rice and soybean industries,” Cochran said.

Jean-Francois Meullenet is senior associate vice president and director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Agriculture Division.

“Dr. Johnson’s commitment to research that benefits the people of our state is a perfect fit for the mission of the Rice Research and Extension Center,” Meullenet said.

“Alton’s career began here with his doctoral research, and his wife, Stephanie, is a native of Ashley County, so this is like coming home for him,” Meullenet said. “And we are pleased to have him back.”

Bob Scott previously held the post at the rice center before being named director of the Cooperative Extension Service last year.

“Dr. Johnson earned his Ph.D. in agronomy at Fayetteville, so he knows Arkansas agriculture,” Scott said. “He will bring a very broad mix of experience in agricultural research and administration to the center, and we are pleased he has accepted this leadership role.”

“Arkansas is the top rice producer in the United States, and the research at the Stuttgart center is crucial to providing Arkansas growers with the most up-to-date research-based information,” Scott said.


Johnson said he wants to support the division’s rice breeders and researchers and work with the scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Station on the Rice Research and Extension Center campus, to make sure Arkansas keeps its place as the nation’s leading rice producer and exporter.

“My vision is to do all that we can to enhance economic opportunities and improve the health and well-being of the people of Arkansas,” Johnson said. “I want to sustain the center’s tradition of developing new varieties, value-added products and services for Arkansas rice growers.”

Johnson said he wants to join efforts with the division’s new Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center and other departments to build a comprehensive group that investigates, develops and extends technology and information and develop new markets.

“I call it the Arkansas rice team,” he said.


Johnson arrives at the Agriculture Division from Central State University in Ohio, where he was a professor of water resources management and dean of the College of Engineering, Science, Technology and Agriculture. While there, he was also director of University Land Grant Programs, which included roles as director of Agricultural Research and Development and administrator of the Cooperative Extension Service.

Prior to Central State, Johnson was dean of the College of Agriculture and Human Sciences, research director and extension administrator at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. Before that, he was interim assistant dean of research in the School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Sciences and chief research officer at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss.

During his 16-year career at Alcorn, he also served as interim research director, president of the faculty assembly, chair of the University Athletics Committee and faculty athletics representative. Johnson worked in the president’s office as co-chairman of the transition team for the 17th president of Alcorn and as his advisor on land-grant issues. He also served as director of the Mississippi River Research Center that conducted research and public service activities to aid in improving water resources in Mississippi.

Since 1994, Johnson has conducted research and/or taught courses related to soils, sustainable agriculture, community agriculture, soil physics, soil conservation and land use, environmental science, microclimatology and many other disciplines.


Johnson said he has known many of the Agriculture Division administrators for many years.

After completing his doctorate in 1992, Johnson served a postdoctoral post in Fayetteville, funded by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, and a brief stint as a research associate at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff before taking his first post at Alcorn in 1994.

“This is where my career started,” Johnson said. “It’s like coming home for me.”

Source: Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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