By Jina Martin
Each year, agricultural leaders are recognized with the top honor in the state — the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.
On Feb. 14, five new members will be inducted, bringing the membership to 115. They are: Dudley Adelbert Putnam, Charles Raymond “Chuck” Smith, Roy Gene Davis, Lillie “Belle” Jeffords and James Neville McArthur.
“Florida agriculture owes an immense debt of gratitude to these outstanding leaders,” Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said. “Their dedicated service in the areas of research, education, business and government helped make Florida agriculture into the remarkable industry that is known and admired around the world.”
Dudley Adelbert Putnam
Dudley Adelbert Putnam was a pioneering citrus grower and cattle rancher in Central Florida.
Putnam was born in Chicago in 1909 and moved to Central Florida with his family when he was a child. After losing nearly everything he owned in the land bust of the 1920s, Putnam’s father returned to Chicago, leaving his three sons behind.
Putnam scraped together enough money to pay taxes on the Lake Wales property and hold onto it. He saved money, purchased more land, and he began planting citrus and raising cattle.
In the 1930s, Putnam was one of the first to establish a long-distance trucking company. He started his citrus-hauling business with one restored burntout truck. When the business took off, he pioneered the use of tandem-axle trailer trucks for fruit hauling. He went from cross-country shipping to citrus processing. With the help of C.E. “Tiny” Williams, he sold shares of stock to establish a state-of-the-art processing plant in Bartow.
During his many years with the Farm Bureau, Putnam worked to help pass the Greenbelt Exemption for Florida agriculture and helped secure a gasoline tax refund for gas used in farm tractors.
“I lent my support to anything that was positive for agriculture,” Putnam said. “When I finished one battle, it was time to take up another. There is always another challenge.”
Putnam’s son and grandsons joined the business and kept it in the family. Today Putnam Groves and Dudley Putnam Inc., include more than 800 acres of citrus in Polk County and 5,500 acres of cattle ranches in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties.
Putnam died in 2003.
Charles Raymond Smith
Charles Raymond “Chuck” Smith has served agriculture as a county extension agent, a farm manager and a legislator.
Smith was born in 1928 in Webster. He enlisted in the Air Force after high school. After his tour of duty, he earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Florida in 1953. That year, he accepted a job as an assistant county extension agent in Citrus County.
He was promoted to county agent a year later, working in Hernando and Liberty counties. Smith was elected to the Hernando County Commission in 1966 and served 12 years. In 1967, he became general manager of the Hernando Egg Cooperative.
In 1978, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives where he served until 1992. He helped create the Market Improvement Working Capital Trust Fund, to be used for the operation and maintenance of agricultural facilities. He wrote the first bill on Everglades restoration and helped draft legislation to provide excise tax exemption for fuels used in for agricultural purposes.
“I helped and opposed Chuck Smith on many issues,” said former House member Everett Kelly, “but there was never any doubt that if you attacked agriculture he would be your worst enemy. He worked tirelessly in all parts of the legislative process to protect and promote agriculture and would take on the highest or the lowest state or national government official in defense of agriculture.”
In 1989, he was named Legislator of the Year by the Florida Farm Bureau. In 1995, he received the Agriculture Volunteer of the Year Award from the Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service.
Smith is a founding member of the Florida Agricultural Coalition. He is currently serving as executive vice president of the Florida Poultry Federation and director of the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Foundation.
Roy Gene Davis
Roy Gene Davis was born in Fitzgerald, Ga., in 1932, and moved to Brandon, Fla., when he was three years old. He received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Florida in 1953. After spending a number of years in the Air Force, Davis moved to Tampa and became manager of the garden department at Sears. He went on to manage the garden department at Montgomery Ward before buying 20 acres and establishing his first nursery.
Opening in 1962, Tampa Wholesale Nursery was an immediate success. In 1979, Davis and his wife, Leta, entered into a partnership with Pete and Bette Walker to form Big Tree Nursery. Big Tree also found success, and the Davis family bought out the Walkers’ interest in 1992.
Davis is a longtime member of the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association, Orlando, and he was elected president of that organization in 1985. Davis served five terms as president of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau and is the founding chairman of the Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers Trade Show.
In 1987, the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association presented him with the Wendall Butler Award for Outstanding Nurseryman of the Year. That same year, he received Hillsborough County’s Agricultural Hall of Fame Harvest Award for Lifetime Achievement in Agriculture.
Davis lives in Dover and owns and operates two nurseries.
Lillie “Belle” Jeffords
Lillie “Belle” Jeffords was committed to the advancement of Florida’s cattle industry. She was born in rural Columbia County in 1924 into a large farming family. By the time Jeffords was 15, both her parents had died. She moved in with her high school principal and his wife, caring for their young children after school to earn her keep. By 16 she had dropped out of school, and by 17 she was married. Her husband, Roy, was a farmer in Alachua, and she became a partner on the farm.
Roy and Belle Jeffords farmed peanuts, tobacco, hay and watermelons. Later, they shifted to beef. In 1960, Roy died suddenly following a short illness, and Jeffords was left to run the farm.
She was a member of the Alachua County Cattlemen’s Association and the first woman ever elected president of that organization.
In 1980, Jeffords was named Cattlewoman of the Year by the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Kissimmee. In 1989, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services named her Woman of the Year in Agriculture.
Jeffords died in 2005.
James Neville McArthur
James Neville McArthur was born in 1893 in Mississippi. McArthur graduated from Mississippi State College in Starkville in 1916 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.
After a stint in the Army in World War I, McArthur earned a second bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. In 1929, after eight years as principal of Miami’s Dade County Agricultural High School, McArthur established McArthur Jersey Dairy Farms.
He opened a state-of-the-art milk-processing plant in 1951 and acquired a second plant in the 1970s.
Through the J.N. McArthur Foundation, he supported education. He died in 1972, but the foundation continues to fund education, and McArthur Farms remains one of Florida’s largest dairies, milking 8,500 cows.
Information was provided by the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.