The Value of Education and a New Scholarship

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Grower and University of Florida alumnus Ned Hancock says the Florida citrus industry needs more young people.

By Ernie Neff

Decades ago, Ned Hancock had a conversation with his father about the value of continuing his education at the University of Florida (UF). “Dad said, ‘You will learn more in the next few years than you may be able to remember, but I hope they teach you two important things: One, you don’t really know as much as you think you know; and two, how to find the answers to what you don’t know,’” Hancock recalls.

Hancock, 61, earned a bachelor’s degree in food and resource economics from UF in 1980 and put his education to good use. He returned to his native Highlands County, where his grandparents and father owned small citrus groves. Today, he owns Hancock Citrus, Inc. near Avon Park, and is a citrus grower and caretaker.

Hancock also has devoted much time and effort to his community and to the Florida citrus industry. After completing 16 years as a Highlands County School Board member in 2012, he accepted appointments to the Florida Citrus Commission and the Citrus Research and Development Foundation’s governing board. Hancock is also a recent past-president of Highlands County Citrus Growers Association.

“All these years later,” Hancock says, “I realize once again dad was right. Learning how to learn and develop strong relationships with those around you seems to provide a foundation for positive outcomes.”

“My experience at the University of Florida provided me with many great opportunities to learn and exposed me to a faculty that had a strong base in production agriculture, although I’m still trying to figure out calculus and why anyone cares what a calculus is,” Hancock says. “Their strong base greatly impacted my ability to ask the right questions and make decisions as I entered the citrus industry. I try to tell people that while your formal education doesn’t provide you with all the answers, it provides you tools that help you to learn and make decisions. I have also found that if you take advantage of those in the academic world and use their knowledge to adapt to your ‘real world’ situations, it seems to make life a little easier.”

Hancock relates his experiences about the value of a college education to the recent introduction of the FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarship. The scholarship is a partnership between AgNet Media, publisher of Citrus Industry magazine, and FMC.

FMC, the exclusive sponsor of the program, 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 UF 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

“The FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarship could not come at a better time or serve a better purpose,” Hancock declares. “As I look around our industry today, I sometimes think we may be missing a generation. While I am thankful for young people like Riley McKenna and Emma Reynolds Ezell, we need more of them. While there are and will always be challenges, this is a great industry made up of even better people. And as John Barben always says, ‘We get to get up every morning and do what we love to do.’”

“I hope we see an influx of new talent into the citrus industry and I hope those of us that are closer to the end of our careers offer the same helping hand that was provided to us,” Hancock concludes.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large