Dr. Rubert W. Prevatt (1925-2015)
- Citrus Industry Education
- Florida Budwood Program
- Florida State Soils Lab
- International Minerals Corporation
Rubert Waldemar Prevatt was born on May 15, 1925 in Seville, Fla., to Mable and Wally Prevatt at their home which just happened to be located in the middle of a tangerine grove.
His father was a citrus and vegetable grower and Rubert grew up helping in the family’s citrus groves along with his three brothers. As a teenager, Rubert was involved in the FFA and 4H clubs, and was chosen as the 1942 Outstanding 4H Member in the State – winning two weeks of camp study on the shores of Lake Michigan – his first trip outside of Florida. He lived in Deland with his aunt for three years in order to attend a larger high school and be better prepared for college, taking several 4H short courses at the University of Florida during the summers, which instilled his interest in Ag Chemistry.
Rubert – which is Swedish for Robert – paid his way through the University of Florida by working with his father farming vegetables, putting out fertilizers, picking, packing and grading fruit, as well as selling it to customers in North Carolina from the back of a pick-up truck. While at the University of Florida, he was a member of the marching Band playing the Baritone and he graduated in 1948 with a B.S. in Agriculture. He stayed on at the University of Florida to earn his Master’s degree in Soil Chemistry, and was responsible for setting up and running the first state soil testing lab there from 1948 to 1951.
In 1951 Rubert took a job with The Doctor Phillips Company in Orlando working for Howard Phillips, one of the owner’s sons and a graduate of Harvard University. Rubert was the assistant production manager of the company’s groves spanning seven counties and set up the lab for soil analysis in their brand new packinghouse. Howard liked to experiment, and Rubert learned quickly that the job was to “do what needs to be done, when it has to be done.” He credits his experience there as the catalyst that gave him the ability to teach throughout the rest of his career, as he learned how the packinghouse ran and experimented in production and fertilization practices in the nursery and groves.
While in Orlando, he was instrumental in helping the state get the DPI Budwood program started and the Doctor Phillips Company was the third grower member in the state to join the new program. He handled all aspects of the program at Dr. Phillips and one of the Valencia trees that he budded while there is still on the certification list.
Another major contribution to the industry was Rubert’s experiments on Dancy Tangerines with iron chelating materials and plant nutrition. The groves of central Florida in the early 1950s were loaded with elemental copper that was used for foliar disease control, which unfortunately raised the PH levels in the soil, blocking the absorption of many nutrients to the citrus trees. His work was instrumental to the section on micro-nutrients in IFAS Bulletin 540 regarding fertilizer and fertility for Florida Citrus.
He met his wife Edna, who was attending Rollins College, and they married in 1953, moving the following year to Cornell University so Rubert could pursue his Doctorate in Soil Science. By 1956 Rubert was ready to move back to Florida and he finished his Doctorate in Soil Science in 1959 at the University of Florida. During this time he did more work with Dr. Harry Ford regarding citrus seedlings and their ability to withstand flooding conditions. Rubert’s published Ph.D thesis on the subject, which Edna typed, is still cited in citrus literature today.
From 1959 to 1970 Rubert served as Agronomist for International Minerals Corporation (IMC) and was in charge of all research and fertilizer formulations for the Southeast region. When they closed the lab in 1970, Rubert began teaching citrus culture and production at Florida Southern College in Lakeland following the death of Professor William R. Lyle. By the spring of 1971 he was teaching ten different citrus, soils, and horticulture classes with Professor Tom Mack. From 1970 until his retirement in 1999 Rubert became “Doc” to hundreds of citrus and horticulture students.
As a professor Dr. Prevatt was a remarkable teacher whose passion and extensive knowledge of citrus and its industry came to life every day in his classes. He was always creative in his instructional plans, classroom or green house programs, inviting guest speakers or directing campus tours. His class was always filled with something new, something exciting… and it was evident that he was excited about what he was doing. It was his passion that had the most impact on all of his students. Dr. Prevatt was also very involved in the private industry; he was a consultant to many and was able to work in stride with other industry leaders to collaborate, innovate and inspire.
Dr. Prevatt was instrumental in creating a very unique citrus program at Florida Southern College. A program where he believed knowledge not only came from a text book but actual hands-on experience. A program where industry leaders were invited to come talk and share their views; a program where students were exposed to every facet of the industry from production, harvesting, packing and marketing; a program where every graduating student had employment waiting for them. And yes, a program where every student learned about the importance of high moral character.
Dr. Prevatt’s greatest contribution to the citrus industry was his tireless efforts to train his students in all aspects of the industry. He had developed key relationships with industry leaders during his tenure which created excellent career opportunities for those who graduated from his department. A student could expect both academic and practical instruction in order to become prepared for a career in the citrus industry, as well as numerous opportunities for internships during summer breaks.
His hands-on approach to teaching taught his students how to research, how to think, and to follow their instincts as growers, which gave them the ability to approach future challenges. He made sure his students spent time in the field to experience real time situations and he always said “the best fertilizer for a grove is footprints.” His passion for teaching inspired, challenged and motivated hundreds of students to invest their time and efforts in the Florida citrus industry. A true mentor, he followed his students’ progress to make sure they were on track, which created bonds that continue to this day
He oversaw the growth of the Citrus and Horticulture Department, including a greenhouse that was funded by a former student. At one time, over 80 varieties of citrus were planted at Florida Southern College, with many of them cultivated in the greenhouse, thus creating a living lab for his students. In addition, he was instrumental in working with Professor Thomas Mack to bring the Jack Berry Senior Citrus Building to Florida Southern and obtained the Ruth Tyndall Chair Endowment Legacy for the Citrus Department.
Rubert’s 29 years of teaching at Florida Southern also resulted in some of the first trips of growers to other citrus growing and marketing areas in the world. During the 1980s Rubert hosted and led educational tours to: Africa, Europe, Brazil, Central America, China, New Zealand and Australia – always taking students and members of the citrus industry with him. He has been a guest professor throughout the world, including London, Egypt and Australia, and has hosted numerous horticultural tour groups on the campus of Florida Southern College.
In addition to citrus, Rubert is an acknowledged expert on roses and is a past director of the American Rose Society. Known as “Mr. Rose of Lakeland,” he used the roses as a teaching tool for his soils classes and has lectured on roses across the nation. He also worked closely with Lakeland Mayor Peggy Brown to have Lakeland’s public spaces filled with roses.
He has made extraordinary contributions to the citrus industry through his work in fertilizers, in the nursery and most especially in the instructional teachings, guidance and hands on leadership that has molded many of today’s industry leaders, as his students now manage more than 60% of the state’s Citrus acres. In life, one can look back and they may only be able to name a handful of people who were truly a great influence in their lives. Dr. Prevatt was one of those people who touched many lives, leaving a legacy that will be felt far into the future of the Florida citrus industry.
Rubert W. Prevatt died on April 13, 2015 in Lakeland.