Karen Moldenhauer had already announced her June 30 retirement when Bob Scott, director of the Rice Research and Extension, said he needed to visit with her.
Moldenhauer, a professor and rice breeder for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture since 1982, knew what was coming. After all, Scott had just accepted an offer to become director of Arkansas’ Cooperative Extension Service.
By the time Scott said, “’I want to talk to you about something,’ I’d already talked to my husband about it. I was prepared,” she said.
“I am very thankful to Dr. Moldenhauer for taking on this leadership role,” said Jean-Francois Meullenet, director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. “I know she will be an outstanding director while we conduct a national search.”
“Karen has been at the station for a long time, and nobody is better positioned to assume this role,” Scott said. “I also appreciate her dedication as she has delayed her retirement for a few months while we search for a permanent replacement.”
Not her first rodeo
After all, it wasn’t the first time Moldenhauer was in this position, having served as interim director for the center in 2001-2002.
Putting off retirement plans is no small thing, but she was philosophical.
“It’ll give me a chance to finish out my work this season,” she said. “I’m looking at what lines to advance to the Arkansas Rice Performance Trials, lines we’d like to advance to the rest of the program, working on Provisia crosses, Clearfield material — the whole breeding program.”
Plus, the Moldenhauers were going to retire to a place in Karen’s native state of Iowa. “
They’re still working on renovations to the house,” she said.
Moldenhauer said her predecessor has not only made her job as interim easier but also for whomever is appointed director.
“Bob has done a great job for this station,” she said. “I think it’s in a lot better shape with many infrastructure updates and improvements and administration has been very supportive of the work we’re doing.”
Moldenhauer received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Iowa State, followed by a masters in plant breeding and cytogenetics from North Carolina State. She returned to Iowa State for a doctor’s degree in plant breeding.
During her 38-year tenure at the Division of Agriculture, 38 rice cultivars have been released to producers which have been grown on 21 million acres.
Moldenhauer’s primary research focuses on improving grain yield, cooking quality characteristics and disease resistance. Her releases — Drew, Kaybonnet and Katy — were the first commercially available cultivars with resistance to all of the common blast races in the southern U.S. growing region. They have provided a source of rice blast resistance to the rice breeding groups in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Cultivars released under her direction helped state average rice yields to increase from 95 bushels per acre in 1982 to as high as 168 bushels per acre in 2013 and 2014. These varieties have averaged between 50% and 60% of the rice acreage in any given year from 1982 until 2009, when the hybrids became popular.
Since then, the Arkansas varieties have averaged between 20% and 30% of the Arkansas acreage. Her 2016 release, Diamond, was grown on 20% of the state’s rice acreage in 2018.
In 2002, Moldenhauer was named the first holder of the Rice Industry Chair for Variety Development, a position she still holds.
“She has nearly 40 years of experience and with that wealth of experience she brings to the table, she’s a welcome addition in that role,” said Nathan Slaton, assistant director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.”
The UA Division of Agriculture will hold a national search for a new Rice Research and Extension Center director.
With the faculty and staff and slate of improvements at the center, Scott said he expects “that the position of director to be a very desirable job and I know our search will go well.”
The job will be posted at https://division.uaex.edu/jobs/default.aspx.
The University of Arkansas contributed this article.