Florida Farming Pioneer Still Making the Honor Roll

Alto Straughn, a farming trailblazer and longtime supporter of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), was recently presented with the school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

The award, which was presented during the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ (CALS) spring graduation ceremony, is one of the highest honors bestowed upon a graduate of the university and recognizes recipients who have excelled in their chosen field or have performed outstanding service for the university.

A Florida native, Straughn earned a B.S. degree in animal sciences as well as an M.S. degree in meat science from CALS. After graduation from UF, he began working for the UF/IFAS Florida Cooperative Extension Service in 1959. Straughn returned to UF as an assistant professor and state Extension specialist after completing a Ph.D. in Extension administration at the University of Wisconsin through the Kellogg Foundation fellowship.

Quickly tapped for Extension administration, Straughn served as the first assistant director of agriculture. He then served as director of program evaluation and organizational development until his retirement in 1989. While working for Extension, Straughn worked with UF/IFAS research to adopt new technologies to use in developing beef cattle, blueberry, watermelon, and timber farming operations.

Straughn was the first in North Florida to grow and market seedless watermelons on a large scale, and helped to build markets for Florida blueberries. Now, many practices first implemented on Straughn’s blueberry farms are used today by Florida farmers, forming the backbone of this more than $80 million industry in the state. Due to his success in working with UF/IFAS researchers, Straughn’s farms produce about 20% of all Florida blueberries. UF/IFAS blueberry researchers estimate Straughn’s in-kind support over the past 20 years to be nearly a million dollars.

“Alto allowed hundreds of growers and potential growers to study all aspects of his farming operation,” said Paul Lyrene, UF/IFAS Professor Emeritus, in his support letter. “He assisted in the research projects of dozens of University of Florida graduate students and their advisers. Most of all, he supported the UF/IFAS program to develop new blueberry cultivars that would grow well, yield well, ship well, taste good and ripen from late March through early May.”

Among his many accomplishments and awards, Straughn has been inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame and received the Commissioner’s Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services.

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