FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A lifelong commitment to Florida’s citrus industry gave Thomas “Tom” James the skills to manage citrus groves with the finest of the industry’s best practices.
A native of Vero Beach who earned the respect of local grove owners, James segued his 45-year career to a position as citrus horticulture research operations manager two years ago with the University of Florida. This week, James was honored for his contributions with a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Superior Accomplishment Award.
Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi, assistant professor of citrus horticulture at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, directs James’ work. The research station sits in the heart of the world’s highest quality grapefruit production region, the Indian River District. James facilitates a team of 17 visiting scientists, agricultural assistants, and interns who perform field activities in two citrus groves on university property and private groves situated throughout the region.
“In only two years, Tom James facilitated several research projects for our citrus horticulture program,” said Ferrarezi. “Tom takes care of the grove caretaking and engages the local citrus industry with the university’s research program. He freed my time so that I may focus on high-level work managing grants and mentoring graduate students and post-docs.”
Ferrarezi said James plans the daily operations and work for his lab associates on more than 30 acres of groves at the UF farms, including 1.5 acres under 14-foot-high Citrus Under Protective Screens, or CUPS screenhouses. Other work takes place on privately owned groves where commercial growers collaborate with Ferrarezi’s research program. Those tasks range from new plantings to irrigation maintenance to collecting data and measuring trees. James handles grower relations at local groves where prominent growers produce fruit despite the presence of the most serious citrus disease worldwide. The disease is called Huanglongbing, or HLB, and is present in most of the world’s citrus production regions.
David Howard, vice president of agricultural operations at Graves Bros. Co. in Vero Beach, said, “Tommy James’ unique ability to offer real-world citrus production experience to the scientific community is invaluable.”
Ferrarezi said James’ demeanor when directing staff and his ability to resolve complicated issues with vehicles, agricultural infrastructures such as irrigation, and the 14-foot-high screenhouses is also one of James’ strong points. Ferrarezi’s staff members say James’ knowledge and passion for the area’s legendary citrus industry inspire them to perform their best work. James believes research is the solution to produce healthful, marketable fruit, as HLB has become endemic.
“My faith in the University of Florida/IFAS researchers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for new HLB-tolerant varieties is strong,” said James. “I look forward to a new and improved citrus industry.”