David Calvert, a resourceful soil scientist, who was regaled as the Indian River District’s lead citrus production scientist and spearheaded pioneer investigations to evaluate the environmental interface between agriculture and soils, has died, according to a family spokesperson. He was 85.
Considered by many as the Indian River District’s first citrus and environmental soils research scientist, Calvert was also an administrator, successful development and civic leader, devoted family man, and parishioner.
Throughout his 48-year career with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center, (UF/IFAS IRREC), Calvert attracted more than $7 million in grants and research donations, he led efforts for the construction of the $2.1 million O.C. Minton Hall’s original wing, and spearheaded an environmental study that comprised industrial scale drainage infrastructure. As Principal Investigator, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Calvert’s greatest research study examined Soil-Water-Atmosphere-Plant relationships and was better known as the SWAP program. SWAP findings provided several of the citrus nutrition and Citrus Best Management Practices (BMPs) that are currently in use by growers statewide.
The SWAP project earned Calvert recognition as a world-renown expert in fertilization programs for citrus grown on soils of the coastal flatwoods. His scientific contributions in mineral nutrition resulted in national–and international–acclaim. Governments in Japan, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, China, and Italy inquired about his work. Calvert was invited and spoke at international professional meetings held in each of these countries.
With Calvert’s elevated status, he was promoted in 1978 to director of IRREC; he served the industry in that leadership position for the next 17 years. It was during this time that the Indian River District citrus brand rose to its pinnacle.
During an interview just before Calvert’s 2010 retirement from UF as Professor Emeritus, he recounted his first visit to Florida. It was 1951, and the citrus industry was nascent. Calvert saw Brahman cattle grazing in wide pastures studded with repeated clusters of cabbage palm trees, and he saw long rows of citrus trees that bore two generations of fruit on the same tree.
“During that trip, I saw a lot I never knew about agriculture in Florida,” said Calvert. “I had never known that both young and mature fruit could grow on the same tree. And I always remembered that.”
In 1951, Calvert was a student at Bloomfield High School in Kentucky. He and fellow members of a Future Farmers of America club had traveled to Florida that summer to tour the state’s unique agriculture. Along with his fellow students, he toured the entire state, investigating crops and cattle operations, Lake Okeechobee and major river systems. It was more than a decade before Calvert returned to Florida. And during that time, he earned three college degrees and became an expert in soil and plant nutrition science.
He attended the University of Kentucky, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy. As a graduate student, he conducted investigation on phosphorus with soils.
In 1958, Calvert began work on a doctorate at Iowa State University. His research involved corn and nitrogen. Upon completion of his Ph.D. in Soil Science in 1962, Calvert accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Soil and Plant Nutrition at UF’s then-named Indian River Field Laboratory in Fort Pierce. At the Fort Pierce lab, now called IRREC, Calvert’s early appointment included field and supportive laboratory research in soil chemistry and soil water. In 1968, the major emphasis for his work shifted to research in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the SWAP project.
“At about this time in Dr. Calvert’s career, he became one of the world’s leading experts on fertilization programs for citrus grown on soils of the coastal flatwoods,” said Ronald Cave, current director of IRREC. “That expertise served the Indian River’s fresh citrus fruit industry and trained a new generation of soil scientists.”
Calvert is celebrated by local citrus growers who remember his work during the final four decades of the 20th century. During his years of directorship for IRREC, the industry thrived and so too did his career. He carried out many research projects with growers in the Indian River District, which comprises Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties.
Members of the American Society of Agronomy recognized Calvert as a Fellow, the highest point of achievement a scientist may reach as a member of the international organization. He was a career-long member of the Soil Science Society of America. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association in 1979 presented Calvert with its prestigious Research Achievement Award. In 1983, he received the Outstanding Conservation Award for St. Lucie County. In 1997, Calvert was named a Distinguished Out-of-State Alumnus for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, received an honorary membership for the Florida State Horticultural Society, and was inducted into the St. Lucie County Farm Bureau Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Along with his wife Joyce, the Calverts funded an annual scholarship program for students of agriculture at the University of Kentucky. A community serviceman, Calvert was a Gator Booster, a member of the University of Florida Alumni Association and the Treasure Coast Gator Club. He was past president and member of the Downtown Kiwanis Club, Fort Pierce, and a member and deacon of the Westside Baptist Church. Calvert also served as president for the Board of Directors at Indian River Academy, where his children attended school.
In retirement, Calvert enjoyed fishing, hunting, and taking care of a family-owned 40-acre citrus grove. He attended the Fort Pierce Kiwanis Club and served the First Baptist Church of Fort Pierce as a deacon, and as a youth mentor.
David Calvert was born on Feb. 26, 1934 in Chaplin, Kentucky. He died on March 17, 2019. He is survived by his wife Joyce Calvert; their children, Victor Calvert and Yvonne Calvert; a nephew, Stephen Calvert; a sister-in-law, Pauline Calvert; a daughter-in-law, Kathy Calvert; and two grandchildren, Joshua Calvert, and Kara Calvert.