Dr. William Castle (1943)
William S. “Bill” Castle was born on March 4, 1943 in Verona, New Jersey to Marie and Cedric Castle. He and his younger sister, Ann, grew up in Verona, where he attended Verona High School and played forward on the soccer team, which won four state championships while he was there. His father had an interest in growing quince, currants and gooseberries, which instilled a horticultural interest in Bill, and together they built a greenhouse where Bill grew his own orchids. He attended Rutgers University, playing soccer all four years, and had a student job working for Fredrick Hough and Catherine Bailey, who were famous plant breeders at the time. While there, he met his future wife, Eileen, through a fraternity brother who was dating her roommate.
He received a Bachelor of Science in Plant Science in 1966 as part of Rutgers 200th Commencement Class and enlisted in the Army after graduation, attending officer candidate school at Ft. Sill, OK. When Eileen came out to visit him, they got engaged and then married in 1967 before being sent to Germany where they were stationed until he got out of the service in 1969 as a 1st Lieutenant.
After the army, he was accepted to graduate school at the University of Florida, where he was mentored by one of the giants in the horticultural academics field, Hall of Fame member Dr. Al Krezdorn, and received his Masters of Science and Ph.D. in Horticultural Sciences. Dr. Krezdorn actually led to Bill’s start in rootstocks, as he assigned Bill that research project for his Master’s Degree. Dr. Krezdorn was a major influence in Bill’s life, and they even traveled extensively together.
While at the University of Florida, Bill also taught an “Introduction to Citrus” class at UF that inspired many students to become involved in the industry, many of whom are now in positions of leadership. In addition, he taught over 20 graduate students throughout his career from various parts of the world, one of whom is now a leading world authority on scion varieties as an independent consultant. Another did seminal work on root development and is a prominent member of the Australian citrus community and another is a director of a research center in Uruguay. And yet another, Ben McLain, who helped found Uncle Matt’s Organic Juices, and is a prominent member of the organic growers in Florida. But he didn’t limit himself to grad students – he also taught 4th and 5th graders about science on Career Day for years at his wife Eileen’s school.
After graduation, a job opportunity opened up at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, under the leadership of another Hall of Fame member, Dr. Herman Reitz. Dr. Castle went on to become a UF assistant professor in 1974 and served as assistant director of the CREC for four years during under then director, Dr. Walt Kender.
During the 35 years he worked for the CREC, Bill made a huge impact on the industry, and although he did field work his entire career, what set him apart was the fact that he collected and published long-term data throughout his career, which was uncommon in the research community at the time. He is careful to note, though, that all of his work was dependent upon the help of his technicians: Ryan Atwood, Jim Baldwin, Jim Nunnallee, and Ajia Cunningham.
His “sweet spot theory” research enabled him to create a rootstock selection guide, originally a rootstock “wheel,” that is now in its 3rd version and available online for the first time. The program outlines which scions and rootstocks worked best in specific soils, and helped change the citrus industry’s way of thinking about the importance of soils. The foundations of this guide were the cooperators in the field trials – and he had 60 to 70 field trials over a 35-year career! He collaborated with numerous growers, including Bill Barber, Hall of Famers Barney Green, Buster Pratt and Orie Lee (whom he spent 20 years working with), and a 15-year project in Babson Park that Jack Norris and Herman Reitz – two more Hall of Fame members – signed off on regarding high-density planting. It is still one of the most important research projects on the subject of planting density today and nothing on that scale had ever been attempted before that time. When questioned about rootstocks, he is thorough in his answers as he considers scion, soil, limiting factors, past experiences, and more before providing his recommendation – and he is always asked for his recommendation – both by the growers and the nurseries. In fact, he even served as Secretary of the Florida Citrus Nursery Association for nine years!
He hosted field days for anywhere from 50-300 people once or twice a year to educate growers and researchers on the work he was doing, including one at Hall of Famer Harold McTeer’s grove in which he was able to grow an 8-pound orange! Why? Because Maury Boyd had always asked him for an 8-pound orange and he was curious to see if it could be done.
However, Bill was extremely conscientious about his research and its benefit to the industry. He established an economic analysis partnership with Ron Muraro on his research data to help the grower make informed decisions based on the bottom line, working with economists to make certain that his information was not only scientifically correct, but also economically sound for the grower.
When Citrus Bacterial Canker escaped containment in 2005, Bill immediately applied his general horticultural skills to finding the best options for windbreak trees to help contain the outbreak. However, he took things one step further by showing the need for windbreaks to the National Resource Conservation Service of the USDA to convince them to provide financial support for the installation of windbreaks, as well as providing them with a list of recommended plants that would work in Florida.
He also did significant work in developing new sweet oranges, with focus on early-maturing selections with better juice color and flavor, to improve the not-from-concentrate (NFC) product. Releases from his work include Earlygold, Westin, Itaborai and Rosa.
Bill has a strong international presence, as he has traveled throughout the world where citrus is grown commercially. His extensive network with citrus horticulturists in other countries has allowed him to bring in plant material for testing or breeding purposes that would not otherwise have even been known, much less available. An international friend and associate, Jose Louis Foguet, who is an important Argentinian researcher, recently shared root stocks with Bill that may be extremely instrumental in the HLB fight.
Bill is the rare combination of a “people person” and a methodical, precise research scientist. He’s open to new ideas, as evidenced by his leadership in introducing and helping to develop the “DISC” precision ag program and one of its outcomes, Advanced Citrus Production Systems. He has always involved economists, growers, packers, processors, extension agents, and research scientists in his work, with the result that the information has always been relevant and useful in real world situations.
Between 2004 and 2011 he published 30 works pertaining to citrus. His research data was based on the longest citrus industry field trials on record, and the nature of the entire Florida Citrus Industry has been shaped by it and the collaborators he so effectively recruited to participate in his laboratory and field experiments.
Upon his “retirement” in 2009, he became involved in helping to develop a fledgling Pomegranate industry for Florida as a means to help give growers alternatives that could add to their bottom line and weren’t as susceptible to disease and pests as citrus. He helped organize the Florida Pomegranate Association and in just the first half of 2015 their website received over 400,000 hits.
Despite retirement, Dr. Castle is also still an active part of the Citrus Research and Education Center Plant Improvement Team alongside Dr. Fred Gmitter, Dr. Jude Grosser, and Dr. Paul Ling. As a part of this team, he recently co-hosted a field day about Rootstocks and HLB tolerance.
Dr. Bill Castle is internationally recognized as the leading authority on rootstocks, and the entire Florida citrus industry has been shaped by his work. His research has resulted in improved citrus scions and rootstocks, orchard designs and management of high density plantings, citrus propagation and pre-plant expert systems, windbreak design and establishment, along with pomegranate cultivars and plantings. Known widely throughout the international community, his extensive network of researchers has made numerous collaborations possible, resulting in break-through research on HLB and most recently, while in retirement, the beginnings of a commercial Pomegranate industry. Therefore, we are honored to induct Dr. William S. “Bill” Castle into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!