Trailblazing Trio Set To Enter Florida Citrus Hall Of Fame

Trailblazing Trio Set To Enter Florida Citrus Hall Of Fame

In keeping up the tradition of recognizing and honoring distinguished leaders who have made significant contributions to the Florida citrus industry, the Selection Committee for the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has announced its latest inductees.


Meet the Class of 2017:

Jim Ellis

Jim EllisEllis has led a distinguished career for decades in the Florida citrus industry as a grower, packer, industry representative and historian. He is currently in charge of the Citrus License & Bonds in the Division of Fruits & Vegetables for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A graduate of Florida Southern College, he was President of the Citrus Club and received the Florida Citrus Mutual Award for Outstanding Achievement in the field of citrus studies. As owner and operator of Lake Garfield Packing, he introduced the first electronic sorter to the state of Florida, experimented with cutting and scoring grapefruit, applying a sweetener and shrink wrapping them to market as a breakfast item, along with different forms of automated fruit harvesting equipment. His passion for the citrus industry and its history has led him to collect numerous artifacts, and he has one of the largest collections of Florida citrus crate labels in the world, which is the nucleus for the Florida Citrus Label Digital Collection at Florida Southern College. His collection has been used in three books on citrus labels, and in the newly developed Polk County Citrus Label Driving Tour, which is part of the county’s History & Heritage program.

T. Ralph Robinson (1876-1967)

 T. Ralph RobinsonA graduate of Syracuse University, Robinson went to work for the USDA in 1901 working in plant physiology investigations. He spent more than 30 years working on the development of new citrus varieties, managing test plantings in 25 different sections of the state. He was primarily responsible for the commercial production of ‘Orlando’ and ‘Minneola’ tangelos, and the ‘Robinson’ tangerine was named for him because of his expert work in citrus breeding. He was part of a team of scientists that included Hall of Fame member Walter Swingle who were among the earliest to experiment with cross-pollination in citrus to develop new varieties. He was a past president of the Florida State Horticultural Society and his biography is listed in “American Men of Science” and in “Who’s Who,” along with approximately 80 titles of papers he wrote on horticultural subjects.

Mike Sparks

Mike Sparks, Florida Citrus MutualSparks has dedicated his entire professional career to the Florida citrus industry, starting with the Florida Department of Citrus where he worked for 29 years in various capacities as CFO, Director of Administration, Deputy Executive Director, and Interim Executive Director. For the last decade, he has been the Executive Vice President and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) in Lakeland. Under his leadership, FCM has been able to secure unprecedented funding both on behalf of the Florida citrus industry and for national USDA programs such as CHRP, MAC and APHIS, as well as citrus and marketing programs. His efforts also led to significant long-term appropriations for pest and disease research, including $125 million in mandatory Farm Bill funding directed primarily at citrus greening research, and trade victories on tariff protection, including anti-dumping actions, which resulted in almost $16 million to FCM members. In addition to his other accomplishments, Sparks was named Florida Grower® magazine’s Citrus Achievement Award winner in 2014.

The inductees will be honored during the 55th Citrus Celebration Luncheon slated for Friday, March 10, 2017 in the Hollis Wellness Center at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Ticket information will be available at

For more information, contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette, Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Executive Director, at 561-351-4314 or [email protected].