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Tucker rose through the ranks to his current position as ARS Area Director for the Southeast Area, headquartered in Stoneville, Miss.

Ron Smith, Editor

March 11, 2024

6 Min Read
Archie, Gary, Tim
From left, Archie Tucker, Area Director, USDA ARS Southeast, received the Southern Cotton Ginners Association Vandergriff Pioneer Award from association President, Gary Bailey, and Executive Vice President, Tim Price at the annual SCGA Awards Banquet.Brent Murphree

Archie Tucker went to work for the USDA-ARS when he was 16 years old. A tad more than 48 years later, he’s still there.

“I was a junior in high school, 16 years of age,” Tucker says. “I never left.

“Dr. Ed King, who retired in 2013, hired me for a summer position. At the end of summer, he said he was impressed with my work ethic, that I was smart, and he wanted me to work for him during my senior year in high school. I said, absolutely. I needed the money and needed to work.”

Over the course of that long career, Tucker rose through the ranks to his current position as ARS Area Director for the Southeast Area, headquartered in Stoneville, Miss. The region covers nine Southeastern states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tucker oversees 1,542 full-time personnel including 482 PhD scientists at 27 different research locations with an annual budget of $354 million in the 2023 fiscal year.

Vandergriff award

In recognition of his near half-century of commitment, dedication, and support for agricultural research, Tucker has been named the 2024 Vandergriff Pioneer Award recipient by the Southern Cotton Ginners Association. The Vandergriff Award honors the late A.L. Vandergriff, a pioneer in cotton gin innovations.

Tucker says a key factor in his longevity at USDA-ARS was “being able to make a difference. I have been honored to work with stakeholders in various industries, including cotton, catfish, sugarcane, and many others. We’ve been able to build relationships and develop research programs to meet the needs of the industry and to make sure our research is focused on top industry priorities.”

It's also about the people. “I've been fortunate to meet and work with some great people, both inside and outside the agency,” he says.

He adds that ARS, in cooperation with various cotton industry stakeholders, has helped bring in resources “to support research programs and to make sure we have adequate facilities, instrumentation, and machinery to do the science.”

Tucker mentions Chip Morgan and Frank Howell at the Delta Council, and Tim Price, Southern Cotton Ginners, among others within the cotton industry as key supporters.

Morgan, retired Delta Council Executive Vice President, says Archie Tucker “is beloved in the agency.”

He’s also widely respected by those stakeholders and partnerships he mentions. He’s played a significant role in maintaining funding for the three USDA Cotton Ginning  labs across the Cotton Belt.

“The cotton gin labs’ budgets are zeroed out each year,” Morgan explains. “One of my big priorities over my 44 years with the Delta Council has been to see that those funds get restored each year. Archie has been a pivotal     part of that. He gave me the compass to know how to get the gin labs into the final budget.”

Morgan explains that USDA works with stakeholders to identify research priorities to help farmers. “Archie knows how to tell us how to weave through the complex processes. Few ARS scientists have that skill. We’ve had a unique relationship.”

Leadership

Frank Howell, Delta Council CEO, agrees. “We have been fortunate to have Archie Tucker at the USDA-ARS Research Center. He is one of the most impressive agriculture leaders I’ve ever known.

“Because of his efforts, a lot has been accomplished to create USDA-ARS policies that work. He was instrumental in spearheading the regeneration of the USDA gin lab at Stoneville. The gin labs have a long history serving the cotton industry. Much of that has been due to Archie’s leadership.”

Howell says Archie Tucker “is at the top of the list of leaders who work with the Delta Council. He is one of those people who make things better than they find it.”

Carlisle Clark has worked with Tucker in several capacities, first with the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding oversight on ARS.

“Now, I'm in the private sector as a lobbyist representing clients who have an ag research interest,” Clark says.

Less red tape

“One of the things I have always admired about Archie is that he's always a willing partner. Often, with federal agency employees we fear bureaucracy and red tape. But Archie is always a pleasure to work with.

“He is a champion of the Mississippi Delta, the Stoneville  research center and the work they are accomplishing there, the gin lab in particular.

“Archie Tucker has been a force to keep that gin lab going  and to improve it, enhance it, get new people, and update equipment.”

Clark says getting additional funding is “not easy in these budget environments, but Archie is straightforward and honest and everything he tells you they're going to do with increased funds, they do it. That always gave Congress the peace of mind, the expectation, and the realization that Archie is a man of his word who will follow through on everything he told you.

Price says Tucker is the first federal employee to earn the Vandergriff Award. “It’s long overdue,” he says.

He also credits Tucker for his support of the cotton industry. “Archie is always accessible, and he understands the importance of cotton industry infrastructure research, especially for the value of the cotton gin labs.”

Tucker says the gin labs play a vital role for the cotton industry.

“I've done all I could to support the gin lab in Stoneville,” Tucker says. “We’ve had some challenges over the years, but we were able to pull together — people from across the cotton industry, the Delta Council, the Cotton Ginners Association, and others — to make sure we brought in the resources to keep that lab viable. As a result, we are strong, we are alive and well, and that lab is making a difference with research.”

Tucker says the gin operates in collaboration with the cotton industry with cotton ginning schools that offer training “that makes a difference.”

He adds that finding solutions to eliminate plastic contamination “remains a high priority.”

Builds relationships

Michael Arnold, ARS director of Budget and Program

Management, says Tucker is “the ultimate relationship builder. He’s established a lot of partnerships across agriculture, with farmers, stakeholders and within ARS.

“Within the department, we count on him to identify priority needs of customers and stakeholders, particularly during these times of many competing priorities for limited resources. We depend on Archie to make sure we are using our limited resources to address the most pressing needs of stakeholders.”

Arnold says Archie has been a champion of the gin labs.

“He always makes sure we understand the importance of the gin laboratories.

“He gets the job done,” Arnold adds. “People should be proud to know they have someone like Archie Tucker working for the federal government on their behalf.”

Integrated approach

Tucker says the ARS center follows a comprehensive approach to solving problems.

“The beauty of a place like Stoneville is that we not only have agricultural engineers and others focused on ginning, but we also have geneticists, physiologists and other units that collaborate with the gin lab. We have holistic research teams focused on solving problems.”

Solving problems and enhancing research efforts for the region, Tucker says, have been important factors in his long tenure at USDA-ARS.

“ARS has been a great place to work,” he says. “It’s a family friendly agency and we’ve been able to make a difference.”

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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