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UF honors Alto Straughn with Distinguished Alumnus Award

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Alto Straughn, a longtime friend of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, was presented with the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the university on April 29.

Straughn was honored for this achievement at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ spring graduation ceremony. The award is one of the highest honors bestowed upon a graduate of the university and recognizes recipients who have excelled in their chosen field or have performed outstanding service for the university.

“I am proud to call Dr. Straughn a CALS alumnus and friend,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “Thorough and rigorous in his approach to research and UF/IFAS Extension, selfless in his dedication to the development of those around him, and humble about his personal accomplishments, he has excelled in both his chosen field and service to UF.”

A native of Walton County, Florida, Straughn earned a B.S. degree in animal sciences as well as an M.S. degree in meat science from CALS. After graduation from UF, he began working for the UF/IFAS Florida Cooperative Extension Service in 1959. Straughn returned to UF as an assistant professor and state Extension specialist after completing a Ph.D. in Extension administration at the University of Wisconsin through the Kellogg Foundation fellowship.

Quickly tapped for Extension administration, Straughn served as the first assistant director of agriculture. He then served as director of program evaluation and organizational development until his retirement in 1989. While working for Extension, Straughn worked with UF/IFAS Research to adopt new technologies to use in developing beef cattle, blueberry, watermelon and timber farming operations.

“One of the aspects that I’ve become to greatly appreciate about Dr. Straughn is his tremendous willingness and desire to cooperate and support our Extension specialists, particularly those who are conducting applied research,” said UF/IFAS Dean for Extension, Nick Place, in his letter of support. “Such collaboration is critical to ensure the applicability, relevance and adaptability to real-world production systems.”

Straughn was the first in North Florida to grow and market seedless watermelons on a large scale, and helped to build markets for Florida blueberries. Now, many practices first implemented on Straughn’s blueberry farms are used today by Florida farmers, forming the backbone of this more than $80 million industry in the state. Due to his success in working with UF/IFAS researchers, Straughn’s farms produce about 20 percent of all Florida blueberries. UF/IFAS blueberry researchers estimate Straughn’s in-kind support over the past 20 years to be nearly a million dollars.

“Alto allowed hundreds of growers and potential growers to study all aspects of his farming operation,” said Paul Lyrene, UF/IFAS professor emeritus, in his support letter. “He assisted in the research projects of dozens of University of Florida graduate students and their advisers. Most of all, he supported the UF/IFAS  program to develop new blueberry cultivars that would grow well, yield well, ship well, taste good and ripen from late March through early May.”

Among his many accomplishments and awards, Straughn has been inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame and received the Commissioner’s Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services. Straughn’s colleagues call him an innovator, risk taker, leader, mentor, pioneer, visionary, creator and philanthropist with a humble spirit.

Straughn remains a staunch supporter of UF/IFAS. Not only has he been generous with his knowledge and time throughout his career, but with his financial support as well. Straughn has provided financial aid to more than a dozen graduate students within CALS and has initiated endowments to provide support for Extension and Extension 4-H faculty.

He and his wife Patrecia have supported the UF Foundation since 1984. Their most recent gifts support the Straughn Extension Professional Development Center dedicated in 2012, a new endowment to host professional development seminars as part of the UF/IFAS Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a new endowment for need-based scholarships to CALS students.


By: Dana Edwards, 352-392-1963,

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. Visit the CALS website at, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.