Helping manage their father’s business — Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery in Frostproof, Florida — was an easy career choice for Levette Rucks and her brother, Phil Rucks Jr.
“I feel it’s in my blood,” says General Manager Levette, who earned a master’s degree in accounting at the University of Florida in 2013. “When I was growing up, my dad (Phil Rucks Sr.) had us kids in the nursery and taught us a lot of knowledge regarding citrus. Growing trees and running a nursery is what our family does. It’s what I love to do, and when you are doing what you love, it comes easy.”
“I grew up around citrus all my life and worked here since I was 12 years old,” adds Production Manager Phil Jr. He received a bachelor’s degree in citrus from Florida Southern College in 2017, 34 years after Phil Sr. graduated from the same school with a business citrus degree. Phil Jr. adds, “My dad worked hard his whole life to build this company for us kids to prosper and take on for the future.”
MANY DON’T FOLLOW IN
Levette and Phil Jr. acknowledge that many young people from citrus backgrounds go into other lines of work. They say problems with HLB disease, and the hard work involved deter some from citrus careers.
“I feel young people are needed in the industry to help bring fresh ideas to the table; also to help keep the industry alive,” Levette says.
“They (citrus businesses) need young people like me,” Phil Jr. adds. “There are jobs available in the citrus industry” but not many young people are obtaining the degrees in citrus or horticulture that give them the skills for such jobs, he says.
SCHOLARSHIPS SHOULD HELP
Levette and Phil Jr. think the recently announced FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarship will entice more youngsters to citrus studies and careers. The scholarship program is a partnership between FMC and Citrus Industry magazine publisher AgNet Media. FMC will award an annual total of $25,000 in scholarship money to five students seeking careers in citrus. Three $5,000 scholarships will go to University of Florida students, while two $5,000 scholarships will be for Florida Southern College students.
Current and incoming undergraduate students in citrus and horticulture sciences degree programs are encouraged to apply online at CitrusIndustry.net/CAPS. The scholarship application deadline is Dec. 1.
“Any time there are rewarding motives in place, I think that will encourage students to pursue citrus in college,” says Levette. “It’s a great major to pursue.”
“Hopefully, people will see a scholarship right there available for them, and know they’ll have a job when they get out of college,” says Phil Jr.
COLLEGE AND WORK
Levette says her college education taught her good fundamentals about how to help run a business. While she feels that 90 percent of her knowledge has come from hands-on experience, she believes that college aided her transition to helping manage the nursery.
Phil Jr. says his college science courses, including chemistry and soil studies, gave him needed knowledge.
Both siblings enjoy seeing their products wind up in groves. “The most rewarding part of my job is watching the citrus trees grow from little liners into ready-to-ship trees,” Levette says. “It’s rewarding to help contribute to the tree growth and watch this live plant transform in front of you.”
Phil Jr. adds that he likes “seeing the trees shipping out to our customers and see them make a difference … for our growers.”
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