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Retired UF/IFAS Agronomist Celebrates 106th Birthday

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Elver Hodges, who started working at the University of Florida Range Cattle Research and Education Center just before the U.S. entered World War II, plans to celebrate his 106th birthday with family and friends a few days before his Aug. 2 birthday.

An agronomy professor with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences for 39 years, Hodges introduced improved forages and management techniques for pastures, focusing primarily on legumes and grasses.

“Elver Hodges is an icon in Florida’s beef ranching history,” said John Arthington, director of the UF/IFAS Range Cattle REC. “As the first forage professor at the Range Cattle REC, his work was instrumental in converting unimproved pastures into the productive forage systems that are common today.”

“His research on Pangolagrass and subsequent release to the ranchers of Florida, made a lasting impact on the advancement of Florida’s beef industry,” Arthington said. “Many years after his retirement, Dr. Hodges continues to be an active presence at the center. Through a generous endowment from Dr. Hodges and his family, his forage legacy continues through the promotion of research and Extension in this important area of study.”

The Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame inducted Hodges four years ago for his many accomplishments.

For instance, as part of the UF/IFAS livestock and forage program, Hodges helped develop forages such as Pangola digitgrass, Pensacola bahiagrass and star grasses. This forage improvement program revolutionized peninsular Florida beef production.

In the early 1940s, the Florida peninsula’s open range provided little opportunity for cattle or forage improvement. But that changed in 1949, when the state legislature started requiring cattle to be fenced in. Another key to cattle improvements was the federal plant introduction program, through which scientists searched the world for new, beneficial forage species. This program brought grasses like Pangola digitgrass.

Hodges, known by many as “Doc,” was born Aug. 2, 1912 on the Sunshine Bottom family farm, in Nebraska, an area bordered on the north by the Missouri River and on the south by 500-foot bluffs.

The Hodges family raised corn, wheat, alfalfa and hogs. Lynch, Nebraska, 10 miles away, was the closest town by horse and buggy.

In 1934, Hodges earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Nebraska. After graduation, he returned to the family farm. The Dust Bowl ended his dreams of farming, and he returned to the University of Nebraska, where he obtained his master’s degree in agronomy in 1936. Continuing his education, Hodges moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey and attended Rutgers University. He worked at the University of Hawaii from 1939 to1941 and then returned to Rutgers to earn his doctorate in 1941.

He then moved to Florida and served as an associate professor then professor with UF/IFAS at the Range Cattle REC from 1941 to 1980, retiring as a professor emeritus. Hodges then served as a professor in the U.S. Agency for International Development International Program to Malawi, 1980 to 1982.

One former colleague, Rob Kalmbacher, a UF/IFAS agronomy professor at the Range Cattle REC, remembers the many times he was tickled when Hodges used humor and highly descriptive language for various situations. For instance, Hodges described the forage leucaena as a “feckless child of the legume world” based on his experience in Malawi.

Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, called Hodges “a remarkable person who has had a tremendous impact on the cattle industry in Florida. It is a privilege to celebrate his 106th birthday and to thank him again for his more than 40 years of research, teaching and service to the Florida cattle industry.”

Friends of Hodges are invited to attend his birthday celebration at 2 p.m., July 29 at First United Methodist Church of Wauchula, 207 N. Seventh Ave., Wauchula.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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