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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
John L. Jackson, Jr.
John L. Jackson, Jr. was born on July 13, 1944 in Orlando to John L. Jackson, Sr. and Carol Griffin Jackson. He attended William R. Boone High School in Orlando before going to Wake Forest University where he received his undergraduate degree in 1964. He went on to obtain his BS in Agricultural Mechanics from the University of Florida in 1966 and his Master of Agriculture in Fruit Crops in 1968. While at the University of Florida, he worked as a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Fruit Crops collecting and processing soil moisture data, climatic weather records, and temperature profiles – a job that would ultimately impact the entire agricultural industry in the years ahead.
Upon graduation from the University of Florida, he went to work briefly as the Assistant Grove Production Manager, Alpat Grove Care Company, in Ft. Pierce where he was responsible for the development and implementation of the grove management program for 2,000 acres of citrus. But he was soon offered the job of County Extension Agent IV (Professor), for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida in Lake County – and there he stayed for almost 40 years, creating programs and cultivating relationships with growers throughout nine counties.
During his citrus career, he was responsible for numerous innovations, including Water Conserv II, where he encouraged citrus producers to use reclaimed water for irrigation and proved its benefit through detailed research programs. At the time, it was the largest water reuse program in Florida. He also founded two weather alert systems to inform producers of the latest forecasts and assist them with protection efforts during freeze and other weather events. He created Weather Watch in 1969, which was a call-in program to keep growers informed of weather impacting their crops, and the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) in 1996 when the National Weather Service discontinued its agricultural weather forecasts. He convinced the state’s Ag Weather Task Force to establish FAWN, and he and his friend, David Ayers, helped install the first 16 sites themselves. He later developed a FAWN Cold Protection Tool Kit to aid producers during freezes which, over the years, has helped growers save money while preserving billions of gallons of water.
These two programs each resulted in Jackson receiving two of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Distinguished Award of Superior Service, and he is the only extension agent in Florida ever to have been recognized twice.
He also established the Mid-Florida Citrus Foundation (MFCF) as the research arm of the water conservation effort and served as their manager for more than 20 years, raising over one million dollars to support the citrus research efforts.
Some of Jackson’s other noteworthy accomplishments include the establishment of an annual equipment operator’s school, now known as Farm Safety Day; the Central Florida 4-H Citrus Project, which he founded and over a 20-year period engaged more than 2,000 middle and high school students in agriculture, teaching them how to grow a tree and the importance of the citrus industry; and held grower OJ meetings to educate and inform growers - now an industry standard.
He has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Central Florida Citrus Production Managers Association where he was the Program Chairman from 1980 – 2000, and has been an honorary member of the Florida Citrus Production Managers Association since 2008. He is a member of the Florida State Horticultural Society, the International Society of Citriculture and the Florida Farm Bureau, to name a few, and has published numerous papers and articles on industry topics.
Upon his retirement in 2006, he became Director of the Florida Citrus Industry Research Coordinating Council, and for the next four years was responsible for directing that organization’s efforts in determining citrus industry research priorities, research projects and associated “gaps” between needs and activities. He, along with several others, helped found the HLB Task Force, which was the engine that started the research dollars to increase for HLB, from $1.5 million to $20 million a year. He was able to obtain a number of 24(c) pesticide labels to help with HLB and was closely involved in getting citrus research decisions and funding shifted from agencies to growers. Also, the Task Force working with the Box Tax Committee helped form the Florida Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), which still exists today. This monumental change in research funding caused by HLB would not have happened without John's incredible ability to bring people together for a common cause.
After retirement he also continued to interact with growers and others on an informal basis. Not only does he continue to visit one on one with growers and former colleagues, but he also sends out a newsletter called “In the Loop,” and hosts an annual old timers’ luncheon, which he calls Mature Mentors, to share their experiences in the citrus industry over the years. He is truly a public servant, and he continues to provide support, encouragement, and information just as he did prior to retirement.
In addition, John has been active in the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame since 1976, beginning first as Historian and moving on to Chairman in 2007, before stepping down in 2019. As Chairman, John managed to steer the organization through difficult times with the Florida Citrus Showcase – ultimately splitting off from them and securing a partnership with Florida Southern College (FSC) in 2008. This partnership has continued to grow over the years and the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame is now responsible for five Fellowships and an endowment of more than $300,000. All from a beginning balance of negative $12,000!
Without his leadership during that difficult time, it is doubtful that the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame would still be in existence, much less expanding its mission to help preserve and promote the history of the Florida citrus industry. To that end, John instituted an Oral History Video Program and personally interviewed almost all of the 30+ videos currently on the website, capturing numerous firsthand stories on the development of the citrus industry. The website is now host to over 1,500 citrus crate labels, 300+ postcards and approximately 150 industry photographs, and the Florida Citrus Archives includes numerous historical documents such as the complete minutes from Florida Citrus Mutual. John also constantly sought monetary supporters to help fund the annual induction luncheon and various special projects, including a book on Florida citrus crate labels and an upcoming book on the Hall of Fame inductee biographies. These resources would not have been possible without John’s direction and guidance.
He has received numerous awards, including Researcher of the Year, Agricultural Spokesperson of the Year, Davis Productivity Award, Excellence in Government, three Outstanding Service Awards from the Central Florida Production Managers Association and three Service to Agriculture Awards from the Lake County Farm Bureau. And in 2020, John’s unwavering dedication to the industry over the years culminated with his induction to the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.
His most recent accomplishment was Lake County’s addition to the Florida Citrus Crate Label Tour in August of 2021, with 24 Lake County citrus label signs dedicated in nine different cities throughout the county, along with a website dedicated to the citrus label and industry history of Lake County.
Always willing to lend a hand, John is also active in his church and the YMCA, but his most important job is that of being “Bampa” to his grandchildren, and husband to his wife, Catherine.
Aptly described as passionate, committed, dedicated, tenacious, accomplished and selfless, he is a true friend to growers, and we are honored to welcome John L. Jackson, Jr. as a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!
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