Since 1980, the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame has sought to preserve the history of the state’s rich agriculture. Each year in February, the Hall of Fame inducts new members at the Florida State Fair in Tampa.
This year, four men have been named inductees for 2009. Two represent the citrus industry, one the cattle industry and the other education in the agriculture field. The following biographies of the inductees were compiled from news releases from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Longevity isn’t a requirement when it comes to being inducted into the Hall of Fame. After only 33 years, the work Mason Smoak did in the citrus industry was enough to earn him a place among the elite.
Smoak was born in Avon Park in 1974 and was raised in Lake Placid among his family’s citrus groves. In 1997, he earned a bachelor’s degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida. Following his education, he began his career in the family’s agriculture operations, which at the time included over 13,000 acres of cattle ranchland and wildlife habitat in Highlands and Hardee counties and more than 3,000 acres of citrus.
Smoak’s positive impact on Smoak Groves was realized with the start of business in timber and horticulture—today the company has 1,250 acres of pine timber in Marion County and 270 acres of caladium bulbs in Hardee County.
While Smoak offered much to his family’s businesses, he also gave much to the agriculture community through involvement in several organizations. Just one year post-college, he was elected to the Highlands County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He also was a Florida Farm Bureau state director, chairman of the Florida Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Program, president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers, chairman of the Heartland Agriculture Coalition and a member of the Florida Citrus Mutual Federal Political Action Committee.
His expertise was recognized by individuals outside the agriculture industry on two occasions: when he was invited to testify in front of the U.S. House of Representatives at a public hearing on labor needs in October 2007 and in January 2008 when CNN interviewed him in one of his family’s citrus groves about immigration reform.
He also had much concern for the environment and natural wildlife. This is evident in his work to improve water management, establish conservation easements on his family’s ranches and study black bear populations in Highlands County. The latter was the reason for his untimely death June 20, 2008—he and Dr. Dave Maehr were conducting aerial surveys of bears when the plane he was piloting crashed killing both men.