By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
Here we are in 2020. It’s hard to believe that time is flying by so fast. I’m now in the older generation! This makes me want to preserve as many memories as possible before they’re lost and forgotten.
Approximately 30 people showed up at a recent Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Oral History Luncheon at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred to share their memories of growing up in the citrus industry. One of those in attendance was Tom Thayer. He told a remarkable story that I hadn’t heard before, so I wanted to share it with you.
Thayer told the group that he and some other citrus growers had heard about a citrus convention being held in South Africa in the early 1970s that some of the researchers from the citrus station were planning to attend. At the time, Thayer wanted to go but didn’t have the funds. So his good friend, Gilbert Bowen (who was sitting next to him at the luncheon), offered to pay for the trip and finally talked him into going by asking him to share what he learned.
“I went ’round and round, but Gilbert wouldn’t give up, and between him and my wife, they finally talked me into going,” Thayer said with a chuckle.
While touring a South African farm, Thayer noticed what he called “gits” spraying water under the trees. He asked if he could take a few of the gits back with him to Florida. The farmer gave Thayer one, along with the name of the company who sold them. When Thayer went home, he told his colleagues about the gits and started to experiment with them at his nursery, Southern Citrus Nurseries, and at the experiment station with Robert Koo (who is now in the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame).
Koo called Thayer one day and asked him to stop by. The researcher took the grower to the experimental block where the gits were being tested.
“Look around, Tom, and tell me what you see,” Koo said. Thayer looked around and pointed out there was a great crop of fruit on the trees. Koo told him “That’s true, but the row I’ve been using with your gits has used 97 percent less water than the rest of the block … You need to introduce this to the rest of the growers, because this is the future!”
Thayer introduced the micro-jet concept to the industry and continued to work on the design, even putting a tent stake in his own grove and taping the git to the extension, thus creating the “clip stake,” which raised the git higher into the tree canopy. He went on to expand and enlarge his low-volume irrigation products and, in 1981, he changed the name of his company to Maxijet, Inc. The company has been the leader in low-volume irrigation since its beginning, changing the industry not only in terms of water conservation, but in fertigation and cold-protection practices that the system enabled.
Thayer closed with this: “If Gilbert hadn’t staked me and badgered me into going to that dang conference, I don’t know that I’d ever have had that opportunity. So, thank you, Gilbert!”
I have to say that my eyes watered then …
Tom and Gilbert, thank you both for having the twenty-twenty vision that benefitted our industry in so many ways!
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.
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