The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame will induct four new members in 2021. They are John L. Jackson of Sorrento, Florida; the late Lew J. Prosser of Plant City, Florida; Adam H. Putnam of Memphis, Tennessee; and Steven D. “Steve” Sorrells of Arcadia, Florida. They will be inducted during a luncheon tentatively scheduled for Nov. 5 at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. The luncheon is normally held in March but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jackson was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame last year and was a county Extension agent (professor) for almost 40 years before heading up the Florida Citrus Industry Research Coordinating Council. The council determined citrus industry research priorities and projects.
Jackson was responsible for such innovations as Florida’s Automated Weather Network and Water Conserv II, encouraging citrus producers to use reclaimed water for irrigation. He established the Mid-Florida Citrus Foundation (MFCF) as the research arm of the effort and served as the MFCF manager for more than 20 years. Jackson is the only Extension agent in Florida ever to have been recognized twice with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s distinguished Award of Superior Service: one for his work with reclaimed water, the other for his work with FAWN.
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 over a 20-year period engaged more than 2,000 middle and high school students in agriculture; and grower meetings for citrus producers.
He was a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame for more than 40 years, serving as chairman from 2006 to 2019. He led the organization from near-bankruptcy to a partnership with Florida Southern College that now has an endowment of more than $300,000. The endowment helps preserve and promote the heritage of the Florida citrus industry through an engaged learning program with fellowship students.
Prosser, who lived from 1899 to 1996, began his career in citrus in 1921, working for R.W. Burch Inc. and eventually assuming ownership in 1928. Two years later, he had become the third largest independent citrus shipper in Florida. He created the first farm production credit association in the Plant City area, sponsored by a forerunner to the Federal Production Credit Association.
He organized the first and only citrus canning plant in the area, Citrus Products Co., and created the Florida Mixed Car Company, which specialized in marketing mixed carlot shipments of citrus and produce on one rail car. He underwrote a case against the Interstate Commerce Commission in the mid-1930s that resulted in significant relief for produce growers and shippers by requiring express companies to provide full refrigerated car service for produce at reduced rates. The landmark ruling resulted in increased shipments of produce from Plant City, eventually paving the way for the state’s largest farmers’ market.
Prosser traveled extensively with A.F. Camp to research citrus production practices in other countries, which resulted in the development of two patents that became widely used throughout the state. One patent was for the use of the trisodium phosphate bath, which retarded decay and eliminated the need for individually wrapping each piece of fruit. The other patent was for a color-added process to improve fruit appearance. Prosser was the author of “Early History of the Produce Industry in Plant City.”
Putnam is a fifth-generation Floridian and third-generation farmer whose public service career began in the Florida House of Representatives from 1996 to 2000. He was then elected to the United States House of Representatives for five terms. He served as the Florida commissioner of agriculture from 2011 to 2019. During his tenure, he assisted and coordinated virtually every political aspect of the Florida citrus industry’s needs to preserve and protect the industry. He helped to obtain much needed funding to combat a variety of problems over the years, such as canker, hurricanes and citrus greening.
Putnam has provided leadership on food safety laws, water issues, government transparency and the preservation of the Florida Everglades. He created the Fresh from Florida campaign to raise awareness and access to fresh fruits and vegetables from Florida. His efforts in maintaining international market access for Florida citrus trade helped keep export markets viable. His leadership in recovery efforts after the hurricanes in 2004 helped farmers get back on their feet.
Currently the CEO of Ducks Unlimited, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, Putnam owns Putnam Groves Inc., a family-owned and operated citrus farm and cattle ranch located in Central Florida.
Sorrells grew a family citrus business from 400 acres in 1972 to its current production of 5,500 acres. One of his biggest contributions to the industry was being the first grower to utilize the U.S. Department of Labor’s H-2A visa program to obtain labor to harvest citrus more than 20 years ago. He helped promote the program to other growers and to make it a common practice that has modernized the industry’s labor force and state regulations.
Sorrells has served on numerous industry boards and organizations and is the only two-time president of Florida Citrus Mutual, where he led the industry through the tariff and anti-dumping battles with Brazil. Sorrells chaired the Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee, which directed the industry strategy on how to preserve the tariff on imported orange juice while also making sure that exporters were playing by the rules. An innovator in production, Sorrells served as chairman of the original Florida Citrus Production Research Advisory Council and has embraced new technology and practices in rehabilitating groves. A 20-year member of the board for Orange Growers Marketing Association, he has helped maintain that group’s position as Florida’s Natural Growers’ largest fruit supplier.
Tickets to the Hall of Fame luncheon, which is co-sponsored by Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida Department of Citrus, are $100 for patron seating or $1,500 for a sponsor table, which includes preferred seating for eight. The event will be followed by the Florida Citrus Processors’ Association’s OJ Meet & Greet with the inductees.
A portion of the proceeds from all ticket sales will go to fund an educational outreach program to help promote the history of the Florida citrus industry. More information is available from Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Executive Director Brenda Eubanks Burnette at 561-351-4314.
Learn more about the Citrus Hall of Fame here.
Source: Florida Citrus Hall of Fame