The South Carolina agriculture community, and cotton farmers in the southern end of the state in particular, mourn the loss of Clemson Area Extension Specialist Tommy Walker, who died from an accidental gunshot wound on Wednesday night.
Tommy was an avid outdoorsman and hunter. In the fall he often carried a shotgun with him during his many trips to visit farmer fields. Upon return home on Wednesday night, he collected papers and other items from his truck, along with his shotgun. He apparently tripped going toward his house and the gun fired, killing him instantly.
“Tommy will be sorely missed by all farmers in this part of the state and particularly by cotton farmers,” says Richard Rentz, a cotton, peanut and grain crop grower in Branchville, S.C.
“He knew a lot about cotton production and in this part of the state, he was the go-to guy, if you had a problem with your cotton,” Rentz adds.
Walker earned a B.S. degree from Clemson and later worked with former Clemson Entomologist Sam Turnipseed, to earn a masters degree in entomology. Though he worked with any problems growers had with cotton and other crops, Tommy was particularly well known for helping growers with insect-related challenges, notes John Mueller, head of the Edisto Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Blackville, S.C.
In 2012, he was cited by Clemson University for his innovative work on fall armyworm management. He also played a key role in making growers in the southern part of South Carolina aware of kudzu bugs, a new threat, especially to soybeans, in the area.
In recent years, Walker played a key role in efforts by South Carolina cotton and soybean growers to reduce the spread of glyphosate resistant pigweed. He had a number of tests out with growers this year, looking at potential new herbicides to use in the ongoing battle against herbicide resistant pigweed.
“Tommy was one of those people who never hesitated to tell you he didn’t know the answer to your question. He also never failed find those answers — he had a lot of contacts at Clemson and in neighboring states, and he was tireless in his efforts to get production information to growers,” Rentz says.
This year target spot popped up on many farms in southeast South Carolina and Walker was quick to respond to the challenge. Much of his time with cotton farmers this fall was spent figuring out why the disease became a problem this year and trying to find answers to solving potential problems for next year’s cotton crop.
“Tommy will be hard to replace. His loss is a great shock to all of us farmers in this part of the state, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” Rentz says.