Farewell to Futch

Tacy CalliesCitrus

After 34 years of faithful service to citrus growers, University of Florida Extension agent Steve Futch readies for retirement.

Futch

By Tacy Callies

Steve Futch’s Florida citrus roots sprouted more than a century ago. His great-grandfather owned a Wauchula grove in about 1905. As a boy, Futch’s first hands-on citrus experience was hoeing trees in the family orange groves. Later, he drove tractors before hauling oranges by semi-truck.

Futch bought his first grove —10 acres in Pasco County — by refinancing his car for the down payment in 1976. When the grove fell victim to freezes in the 1980s, he took the loss as an opportunity to do something different. In 1985, he got his first Extension agent job at the University of Florida (UF).

Futch Fruit Co., Inc. was owned by a distant relative of Steve Futch.

Futch’s Extension career began as an Indian River County agent before he became the county’s Extension director. Since 1990, he has been a multi-county citrus agent, working from the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred. He assists growers with production, pest identification and training mainly in DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Futch also served twice as interim Extension director for DeSoto County, for a total of about five years. He will officially retire on June 30.

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BUILDING BONDS
Futch says he is grateful to have worked with many people who helped him along the way. He considers his top mentors at UF to be Dave Tucker, the late Larry Jackson and Ron Muraro.

“Larry was one of my college professors in Gainesville and a great friend. Dave helped me when I got the first Extension job to become better equipped to handle many of the Extension questions and was always a great resource in so many citrus-production areas. Ron’s economic data aided me in so many ways as a citrus grower and then as an Extension agent,” says Futch.

PROFILE: STEVE FUTCH
BIRTHDAY: March 26, 1953

FLORIDA BORN AND BRED: Futch is a fourth-generation Floridian who has lived his whole life in Central Florida, never north of Gainesville or south of Vero Beach.

A young Steve Futch makes one of his first visits to the University of Florida. “Once a Gator, always a Gator,” he says.

EDUCATION: Bachelor of science, University of Florida (1975); master of business administration, University of South Florida (1986); doctorate in horticultural sciences, University of Florida (1997)

FAMILY: Married to Debbie for 32 years; sons Bill and David

ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIPS: Florida State Horticultural Society, Florida Weed Science Society, Florida Association of County Agricultural Agents

KEY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA AWARDS: Dallas Townsend Extension Award (2014), Award for Excellence in Internationalizing Extension (2010)

BEST PART OF EXTENSION WORK: “Working with and meeting growers locally and from around the world. Being an Extension agent is as close to being a farmer, but without the risk.”

WORST PART OF EXTENSION WORK: Long hours spent driving

HOBBY: Traveling the world

FAVORITE QUOTE: “It is what it is.”

RETIREMENT PLANS: After a three-week trip to Europe this summer, “I will remain in Winter Haven and hope to be fortunate enough to be able to help growers in the future.”

Editor’s note: Read about Futch’s new post-retirement role here.

Futch also values the relationships he has made with growers over the last 34 years. He saysthose relationships have been built on commitment and a willingness to help. “I have conducted many trials throughout the state doing all kinds of studies,” says Futch. “It is these activities that have kept me close to growers. I believe that I have always been willing to help and do what is possible to find an answer for growers’ problems.”

“Steve has a true interest in the growers and their needs,” says citrus grower and caretaker Charles Harrison, Jr. “He is a great asset to our industry and way of life. Some of his greatest strengths are his knowledge and communication skills of new innovations and aspects of the citrus industry. He truly listens to the growers’ needs and tries to help in any way that he can. We will miss him as our Extension agent, and he leaves some big shoes to fill.”

Buddy Strickland, central division citrus director for Alico, says it has been a pleasure and privilege to work with Futch. “Steve has always been available to growers large and small,” says Strickland. “We could write a book about how he has helped growers in many ways, primarily as a teacher, information gatherer and distributor. We will all miss his knowledge and organizing abilities.”

PROLIFIC PEN
One of the areas of expertise Futch is best known for is weeds. His “Identification of Weeds in Florida Citrus” UF pocket guide is a valuable tool for growers and is currently being expanded and updated. He has authored the past Weed Spotlight column and special inserts on weeds in Citrus Industry magazine. His contributions to the magazine extend well beyond weed management; he has authored or co-authored more than 200 Citrus Industry articles in the past three decades. His first article in the magazine, on selecting proper tree wraps, was published in 1987. His most recent article can be found on page 24 of the June 2019 issue of Citrus Industry.

Steve Futch’s field guides for citrus growers are used around the world.

Citrus Industry is not the only publication that has benefited from Futch’s fruitful pen. Including the Citrus Industry articles, he says he has created “nearly 500 different publications, factsheets, booklets and magazine articles. Some publications have also been translated to Spanish to reach a wider audience. In my travels to foreign countries, it has been amazing to see some of those publications in actual use.” An example of one such publication is Futch’s “Identification of Mites, Insects, Diseases, Nutritional Symptoms and Disorders on Citrus,” a UF pocket guide published in English and Spanish.

VETERAN TRAVELER
In addition to educating growers through his many publications, Futch has expanded their knowledge by leading them on trips.He has taken growers to the commodity exchange in New York and led multiple excursions to Brazil. “Around 100 individuals have gone with me to view citrus firsthand in Brazil,” says Futch. “These have included growers, managers, processors, sales representatives, legislative aides from Washington and even a past senator from Florida.”

Futch says he is awed by the vastness of Brazil’s citrus groves, with some spanning thousands of acres.

“On my first trip to Brazil with Steve, I learned the art of herding cats as Steve was a master at taking a busload of growers to a grove site, turning them loose and then having the ability to herd them back together and stay on schedule,” says Strickland. “It was nice to sit and relax with Steve at the end of the long days and enjoy his unique sense of humor.”

Futch has visited nearly 45 countries, including 19 that commercially produce citrus. Besides Brazil, he has seen citrus plantings in Argentina, Australia, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Jamaica, Israel, India, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Spain, South Africa, Trinidad and Uruguay. He has also hosted many growers from around the world to see Florida citrus operations.

In all the citrus-producing countries he has visited, Futch says, “I am always amazed at the commitment to farming and growing citrus. Growing citrus is not just a job where you put in time. Great growers have a passion and commitment to excellence and have a vision for the future and what it takes to be successful.”  

A LIVING LEGACY
One of Steve Futch’s most notable career accomplishments is the establishment of two University of Florida scholarships. The Steve Futch Extension Scholarship is awarded annually to one student in the Horticultural Sciences Department and another in the Food and Resource Economics Department. Futch says the cash scholarships are designed to offset some college expenses.

“These scholarships are awarded to students that graduate from a public or private high school in one of the counties (DeSoto, Hardee, Indian River, Manatee, Pasco, Polk or Sarasota) where I have worked or lived over the last 66 years,” Futch says. “The scholarships are not need-based but based on academics.”

FUTURE OF FLORIDA CITRUS
What does Futch think the future of Florida citrus will look like?

“Those that adapt to change and use change to their advantage will be the ones that survive and are profitable,” he says. “Change in tools like remote sensing, data collection, utilization and analyzation of data will be the key to success. Many older growers do not fully understand the potential of these devices and what technology offers. The younger generation will fully utilize these new tools to enhance productivity and management.”

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About the Author
Tacy Callies

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine