He has never owned a John Deere, but Robert L. Walker brings a hefty harvest of administrative experience to his new job as Maryland's third agriculture secretary.
He is a past president of the Baltimore City School Board, served as an executive with Esskay, an old-line, Baltimore meat-processing company, and has been the No. 2 guy at the state Agriculture Department since 1987.
"I've always been on the agri-business side of agriculture," Mr. Walker said. "As a production farmer, no, I haven't had any direct experience at farming."
He laughs when he says he has milked a cow and has even tried his hand at shucking corn. "I've ridden on a tractor," he added.
Mr. Walker said that the 5 1/2 years he has worked for the out-going secretary, Wayne A. Cawley Jr., "have been a good education. I've met with hundreds of farmers and visited scores of farms. I have a keen understanding, I think, of the enormous contributions farmers make to Maryland's economy.
"Although I haven't been a production farmer, I think I have a good understanding of the problems that farmers face as they produce their crops and try to earn a profit."
As the department's deputy, he has traveled the globe hawking the goods of Maryland's farmland.
Mr. Walker said that the one concern he had about taking his new job was the perception in the agriculture community about his lack of on-the-farm experience. "Both Wayne and the governor assured me that that was not something to worry about," he said.
Mr. Walker, 42, is a graduate of City College and Towson State University, where he majored in political science.
During his six-year term as school board president (1980-1985), Mr. Walker was a strong advocate of increased funding for education.
Mr. Walker joined Esskay as an assistant foreman after graduating from college. Over 10 years he worked his way up the corporate ladder to become the youngest vice president in the company's 126-year history. He left the East Baltimore company in 1985 to become executive assistant to Mr. Cawley.
Mr. Walker's first involvement with Gov. William Donald Schaefer came in the late 1970s, when he was involved in Mr. Schaefer's campaign for mayor of Baltimore. Shortly after winning the election, Mr. Schaefer asked Mr. Walker to serve on the School Board.
Mr. Walker is fluent in Russian and met his wife, Tanya, who was born in the Ukraine, at a party when she was visiting her sister in the United States. They live in Severna Park and have three children.