Ray Royce readily acknowledges grower and nurseryman John Gose’s many contributions to the Florida citrus industry, including serving “on way too many advisory committees to list.” Gose has even been president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, where Royce is executive director.
But it’s not Gose’s work with growers that most impresses the association executive. “I always think of him for his service to the youth of our area,” Royce says.
“As an example,” says Royce, “John has been at the forefront of leading the Highlands County Youth Citrus Program. His consistent leadership in that program (as chairman since 2016) has provided hundreds of young people, and their families, an opportunity to better understand our industry through growing their own trees.” Gose is involved “in every step of that process.” He facilitates tree acquisition, instructs youth on planting and caretaking, and spearheads getting the trees to the county fair, where they are sold.
“Without John, this very successful program would not continue to flourish in Highlands County,” Royce declares.
Like those he helps in the youth program, Gose got an early start in citrus, working in his family’s grove in Avon Park, “hoeing weeds and cutting sprouts,” he recalls. “As I got older, I was able to mow, disc, spray, etc.”
Gose planned to get an associate degree from then-South Florida Community College in Avon Park and study citrus at the University of Florida (UF). Tim Hurner, who had known Gose “since he was a kid,” was in graduate school at UF while Gose was at South Florida. “He approached me with concerns about how his college advisor was directing him toward courses,” recalls Hurner, who would later be the long-time Highlands County citrus Extension agent and teach citrus in college.
At Hurner’s suggestion, Gose visited UF. Hurner introduced him to the late Larry Jackson, chair of the UF Citrus Department. “Dr. Jackson gave him the department tour, answered his questions, gave him the prerequisites, and the rest is history,” Hurner says.
Gose summarizes that history: “After graduation from UF, I went to work for Lykes Bros Inc. and I’ve been there ever since. I was hired as the citrus nursery supervisor, promoted to citrus nursery manager, promoted to production manager, promoted to manager of special projects and promoted to general manager. As of June 2020, I have been employed by Lykes for 39 years.”
Lykes is a family-owned Florida based company with interests in citrus, cattle, and hunting and farming leases. The citrus is primarily juice oranges.
“Lykes has experienced a significant reduction of acreage due to HLB, as most growers have,” Gose says. “The company now farms approximately 4,000 acres of citrus. As many growers are experiencing, Lykes has struggled to produce effectively due to HLB.”
According to Gose, some production improvement has been seen with modifications to practices such as nutrition management, pruning and compost. “No one practice works the same in each and every block. So much effort goes into making production decisions on a block-by-block basis.”
One novel approach Lykes has taken to HLB is involvement in a grove restoration project at Highlands Hammock State Park. Gose says it is “very interesting how all citrus trees out in the open were HLB-positive, and all citrus trees growing under the canopy of an oak hammock were all negative. We encourage the work USDA is conducting with oak leaf extract, as there is definitely something there that may benefit the industry.”
Growing citrus in the HLB era is much like being a row crop farmer, Gose believes. “You can never let your guard down and you must be vigilant, cautiously aggressive, and willing to try practices that make sense.”
Gose practices what he preaches about being aggressive and trying new practices. “John is a very astute and perceptive citrus grower,” Hurner says. “He is willing to get out on the edge and try new things. He has guided Lykes through dealing with HLB and keeping groves productive and profitable. He has a lot of insight on trying new varieties and rootstocks, keeping ahead on new plantings and replanting.”
Fellow Highlands County grower John Barben adds that Gose “is usually ahead of the curve of new innovations in the industry.”
GUIDANCE TO GROWERS
As Royce says, Gose’s contributions to the citrus industry are too extensive to enumerate. A short list includes formerly being president of the Florida Citrus Nurserymen’s Association and leader of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association’s Citrus Nursery Division.
“Not only is he a great citrus production manager and nurseryman, but a true leader within our citrus community in many ways,” Royce says. “He is a man that you can count on regardless of the task, large or small, without any sense of desiring recognition for it.” Hurner adds, “Other growers and industry leaders seek his wisdom and guidance.”
Barben is one who has sought Gose’s guidance. “On the production side, he is an open book,” Barben says, “always available to discuss what is working, or not, on pest and disease, experimental projects, or anything that’s he’s involved in.” Barben followed Gose’s lead and advice by automating his grove irrigation.
Beyond citrus, Gose is a member of the Overall Highlands County Extension Advisory Committee, a director of the Highlands County Fair Association and member of the Sebring Firemen Inc. organization, which raises funds to support Sebring High School athletic programs. He was the Firemen’s “Man of the Year” in 2017.
“I love watching plants grow and knowing our team had something to do with that,” Gose says when asked about the best part of his job. “The most aggravating part has been dealing with HLB, but we have made progress.”
“The evolution of growing citrus in Florida has been very interesting,” he says. “This journey has been one I wouldn’t trade for anything. The climate in Florida will always be favorable for growing citrus, and citrus will thrive in Florida. I foresee the acreage shrinking and production increasing in the future with higher-density plantings and more HLB-resistant genetics being the norm.”