Agricultural Hall of Fame Tickets Now on Sale

Daniel CooperAgriculture, Industry News Release

Agricultural Hall of FameTickets are on sale for the 38th annual Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame banquet on Feb. 14, which will honor four inductees who have made invaluable contributions to Florida agriculture.

The banquet, which each year celebrates the accomplishments of industry leaders who have served in research, education and business, is held in the Special Events Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Tickets are $60 per person, and tables of eight are available. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 813-230-1918.

“This is a great event that recognizes the tireless efforts of individuals who have worked to promote and protect Florida’s greatest industry. This is the agricultural community’s highest honor,” said Ray Hodge, president of the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. “Their unselfish contributions have made Florida agriculture stronger.”

The Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame banquet reception starts at 5:30 p.m., and the dinner and program begin at 7 p.m. Online ticket sales close Feb. 10.

The Hall of Fame also is accepting nominations for next year. Nomination forms with detailed instructions may be downloaded and printed from the Florida Ag Hall of Fame website. Click on “Nominate” at the top. Forms and supporting materials must be postmarked no later than Sept. 1, 2017.

This year’s inductees bring the total to 160 who have been honored. They are:

Eugene Badger

Badger was born in Hastings and grew up on his family’s potato farm. This early connection to agriculture grew into a lifelong commitment to advancing Florida agriculture and advocating on its behalf.

Badger graduated from the University of Florida in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics and education. He began teaching agriculture at Palatka High School. In 1952, Badger then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and received honorable discharge in 1955 with the rank of captain.

Badger accepted a management position with the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau when he returned to Belle Glade in 1972 and was able to actively advocate for farmers across the state. Though not a farmer, Badger’s selfless mission has always been to mentor farmers to be spokesmen for the industry on local, state and national issues.

George W. Bush selected Badger as head of the state Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, now known as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Badger worked diligently to honor and serve Florida farmers by identifying pitfalls in the Federal Corp Insurance Program and pursuing opportunities to showcase Florida’s specialty crops.

William Cook

Cook was born in Tallahassee, where he graduated from Leon High School. Cook then moved to Callahan to join his uncle’s turpentine and pulpwood business in 1946. After serving in the Air Force, he returned to Callahan where he began building his forestry legacy through the acquisition of the Callahan Timber Company and the creation of Great South Timber and Lumber.

Since joining his family’s logging business 70 years ago, Cook has seen the operation evolve from hand-loading trucks to leading the way in cutting-edge technology, diversification and integration. Cook has shared his passion for forestry by playing a crucial role in increasing the industry’s involvement in securing legislation and improving public outreach.

Cook was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Forestry Foundation, which provides ongoing financial backing for 45 teachers from across the state to participate in the Florida Forestry Teachers’ Tour to educate kids about forestry. Cook has continuously served on the Florida Forestry Association’s board of directors since he was elected to the position in 1974.

Joe Marlin Hilliard

Hilliard was born in Fort Myers and grew up in Hendry County, where he graduated from Clewiston High School in 1961. Hilliard began working on Hilliard Brothers Cattle Ranch, which was founded by his grandfather in 1906 and later owned by his father and uncle in the 1920s.

After joining his uncle and father in managing the ranch, Hilliard developed thousands of acres of native pine and palmetto woods into pasture by allowing farmers to clear and farm the land for two years, then planting improved grass. He also collaborated with UF/IFAS to educate farmers in South Florida about the tropical soda apple weed.

Hilliard was one of the first producers to grow sugar cane on sandy soil. Beginning in 1961, he created research projects with the IFAS Immokalee Research and Education Center to advance his knowledge and helped form the South Florida Agricultural Council. Hilliard revolutionized the industry by introducing mechanical harvesting to the area through the Sugarland Harvesting Cooperative, ultimately resulting in an industry-wide adoption of the practice.

Hilliard’s leadership skills have provided major advances in cattle, citrus and sugar cane industries. Hilliard has served as an officer of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, a member of the Florida Citrus Commission and a member of the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission.

Dr. W. Bernard Lester

Lester was born in Havana, Fla., and grew up on a farm that produced the tobacco plants that provided the outer wrappers for cigars. He was involved in Havana High School’s Future Farmers of America, earned an Eagle Scout designation and received the Service Award from the American Legion.

After serving in the Army Reserve, Lester received his master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Florida in 1962 and his doctorate in agricultural economics from Texas A&M University in 1965.

Lester returned to Havana and began his career as a research economist with the Florida Department of Citrus. He was named economic research director for the Florida Department of Citrus in 1969, where he was responsible for administering and conducting all economic research activities for Florida citrus products. He was promoted to deputy executive director then executive director in 1979.

Lester served on the Alico Inc. board of directors from 1986 to 2005. During this time, he joined the Gulf Citrus Growers’ Association. He also served on the board for Orange-Co Inc., Agri-Insurance Company, International Fruit Inc., Florida Fresh-Pak, Saddlebag Lake Resorts, and the Sugarland Harvesting Co.

Lester provided leadership to Florida agriculture and landowners through his 20-year service with the Florida Land Council and has served in various capacities in numerous educational and service organizations.

For more information about this year’s Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame honorees and previous inductees, visit