In December, our state lost a great Floridian with the passing of Doyle Conner. The youngest Speaker of the House in Florida and the Commissioner of Agriculture for 30 years, Conner was a powerful advocate for Florida’s agriculture industry, a champion for Florida consumers, and an inspiration to many, myself included.
Conner’s source of inspiration came in the form of his predecessor, Nathan Mayo, the only state Commissioner of Agriculture who served longer than he did (1923 to 1960). The two met when Conner was just a 14-year-old spending his summer at forestry camp. There, Conner declared that when Commissioner Mayo retired, Conner would take his place. Less than 20 years later, Conner fulfilled his promise and was elected Commissioner of Agriculture in 1960.
As both a legislator and Commissioner of Agriculture, Conner grew the Florida Department of Agriculture to include responsibilities such as managing the state’s 1 million acres of forest resources and safeguarding consumers from deceptive business practices. Conner, however, did not lose sight of the Department’s mission to support Florida’s agriculture industry.
Fresh From Florida
Conner was a tireless promoter of Florida-grown products. He traveled to more than 60 countries, including Spain, Kenya, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, introducing Florida products to new markets. From the time he was first sworn in, to his last day in office, cash receipts for Florida products multiplied seven fold, from $869 million to $6.2 billion. He worked to promote Florida commodities domestically as well through supermarkets and local farmers’ markets. Under Conner’s leadership, Florida was one of the first states to brand its agricultural products, a marketing tactic that is now widely practiced throughout the nation.
At Your Service
Conner staunchly defended the agriculture industry against the threat of pests and disease. Most notably, he pioneered the way we eradicate pests in his defeat of cattle screwworm. Conner fought for funding to support a research program that would explore new options for eradicating the pest. The program proposed a new and innovative, yet unproven method that involved releasing millions of sterile male flies as a biological control of the pest. The method proved to be effective in eradicating screwworm in Florida and was the first demonstration of efficacy using the sterile male technique.
Though his impact on Florida agriculture is immeasurable, Conner’s most important contribution was his commitment to youth. An active member of 4-H and FFA throughout his youth, Conner made youth leadership development opportunities a priority. He mentored thousands of young people who went on to take leadership roles in industry, the department, and public service.
His commitment to youth is evidence to me that his first meeting with Commissioner Mayo had a lasting impression on him. He clearly appreciated the inspiration and motivation that Commissioner Mayo offered him. In turn, Commissioner Conner served as inspiration and motivation to the generations that followed him.