LABELLE, Fla. — Farmers are a salt of the earth bunch - they’re not in the industry for any recognition or accolades. But in the heart of LaBelle, where farming forms the backbone of the community, there’s an agriculturalist who’s earned himself a very prestigious award.
Rows upon rows of tomato plants were flourishing on a farm off Sears Road in LaBelle. Gene McAvoy, a specialized horticulture agent in southwest Florida, says a lot of it has to do with pest control.
"Chemicals, insecticides, and fungicides are not the only answer. Pests soon become resistant to those if that’s all you use. So, we’ve basically embraced the concept called Integrated Pest Management,” said McAvoy.
This concept, McAvoy says, includes controlled burns of harvested crops to ensure a fresh start each season.
His innovative techniques and dedication to education through his pest and disease hotline and the Pest of the Month column in the Florida Growers Magazine have made him a renowned figure in the agricultural community.
Reflecting on his 50-year career, McAvoy shares that his journey began with scholarships to Rutgers University, where he naively chose to study agriculture, a decision that set the stage for his life's work.
McAvoy's commitment to giving back led him to the Peace Corps in 1974, where he was stationed in Niger, Africa, teaching locals improved farming techniques.
This experience, he recalls, "led to a career with the United States Agency for International Development," taking him around the world to share his knowledge.
Then, In 1997, McAvoy says he joined the Hendry County Agricultural Extension Office as a horticulture agent, where he worked until 2022, developing educational programs for farmers across Florida.
"Go and work with farmers for a couple weeks to teach them pesticide safety or food safety, or show them new techniques of growing," McAvoy says, summarizing his approach.
Since retiring from the agriculture extension in 2022, McAvoy says he opened his own farming consulting business. He says he finds farmers he believes he can help and gives them guidance. As so much changes in the agricultural industry, he offers this advice.
“You need to learn as much as you can. You have to know business, you have to know public relations - computers are involved. Every one of these farmers tracks their crops with computers,” said McAvoy.
Now, in recognition of his significant contributions to farming and his community, McAvoy is being named into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Humble in the face of this honor, he remarks, "I was just doing my job the best way that I knew how, and it led to all this recognition."
The ceremony is set to take place on Feb. 13 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.