Howard James “Jim” Simpson Jr. (1942-2001)
Simpson graduated from Mount Dora High School and University of Florida with a B.S. in Fruit Crops. In 1965, he planted the B&J grove, one of the first high-density groves planted, which was the only grove in the entire company that made it through both the 1983 and1985 freeze intact. Simpson was also and president of the Mid-Florida Citrus Foundation, chairman of the Box Tax Committee, the Mechanical Harvesting Committee, a board member of the A.H. Whitmore committee, and President and chairman of the Lake County Farm Bureau and the Lake County Land Use Committee.
Spray Transfer System
Box Tax Committee
Howard Simpson was born October 28, 1942, in Eustis, Florida. Introduced to the citrus industry at an early age through his family, Simpson was a fourth generation grower. Attending Mt. Dora High School, Simpson became student council president and also a state swimming champion in 1959. Simpson attended the University of Florida, graduating with a B.S. degree in fruit crops.
After graduation Simpson began managing the family’s fruit company, and would continue in that capacity for the next 35 years. In 1965, he planted the B&J grove. It was one of the first high-density groves planted, using a 10-by 25- foot spacing which gave them 174 trees per acre. The industry norm then was only 70 trees per acre, and there were many that laughed at his efforts, but it was the only grove in the entire company that made it through both the 1983 and1985 freeze intact.
Simpson was also a pioneer in mechanical innovations to help the harvesting. In 1972 he and his father built their own air shaker. It was a series of large truck mounted fans that blew the fruit off the trees when it drove down the rows. He then modified a potato digger to pick up the fruit from the rows. He was one of the first growers to use overhead irrigation. He worked with a Florida company on the development of a mechanized under tree hoe mounted on a tractor. This was a better way to control weeds than the hand hoeing practice. He developed a banking machine that took dirt from the middle of the row and deposited it against the tree, thus saving the tree roots. He developed an in transit spray transfer system to save time in the field by transferring spray mix from a supply truck to the sprayer without having to stop the sprayer. He also used his groves to test Diaprepes, root stock evaluation, pruning, tree spacing, and herbicides for the benefit of the entire citrus industry.
The freeze of 1983 brought mass destruction to the Simpson groves. That year 10% of all their groves were destroyed. The company spent the rest of that year and 1984 trying to recover their lost groves. However, 1985 brought another freeze and almost all of the remaining grove acreage was destroyed. Groves that were once worth $12,000 an acre were now worth $2,000. This forced Simpson for the first time ever to sell much of his land in northern Florida. The cost of replanting and risking another freeze was just too great. He would spend the next five years buying new properties and planting new orange trees.
The Simpson Fruit Company, which primarily before the freezes was a processed orange grower, became a fresh fruit grower and led to one of Simpson’s brightest ideas. He began to grow a late variety naval orange which peaked in February and March, a month or two after regular navel oranges are gone. He then took those late peaking oranges and had them sold from fruit stands on Interstate 75 and other roads leading out of Florida. This became extremely popular as now people vacationing in Florida would have fresh navels to take back with them as they headed north. This new innovation accounted for 25% of the entire Simpson fruit company crop.
Simpson was also chairman of the Box Tax Committee, and president of the Mid-Florida Citrus Foundation. He was chairman of the mechanical harvesting committee, a board member of the A.H. Whitmore committee; he served as chairman and president of the Lake County Farm Bureau and the Lake County Land Use Committee. He served on a number of other organizations including the chamber of commerce, the YMCA, the Waterman Hospital Board, and the Board of Directors for the First National Bank of Mt. Dora.