Joe L. Davis, Sr. (1923-2014)
Joe L. Davis, Inc., Realtors
Florida Citrus Mutual
Florida Citrus Commission
Hardee County Property Owners Association
100 Percent Florida
Underground Tile Drainage
Double-Set and Inter-set Low Density Groves
Davis Citrus Farms
Joe L. Davis was born in Hardee County on September 25, 1923. Upon graduation from high school in 1941, Davis obtained a real estate license at the age of 18. His first venture into citrus occurred in 1953 when he purchased controlling interest in twenty acres of grove in Hardee County. He ultimately decided to couple his interest in real estate with his interest in citrus to specialize in land for grove development. Through the remainder of his adult life, he juggled working with his real estate operations, establishing Joe L. Davis, Inc., Realtors in 1960. Joe became increasingly more involved in citrus and made a conscious decision to immerse himself in the citrus industry. By 1976, he had accumulated over 600 acres of Hardee County citrus.
Davis became known for his expert ability to locate the best available land and soil for citrus growing. Before the late 1950s, the “Florida Ridge” formed the heart of the Florida citrus industry, however, the focus shifted southward after the Ridge suffered from outbreaks of nematodes, land shortages, and a devastating freeze in the winter of 1957-1958. Hardee County and the surrounding areas became one of the most important citrus-producing regions in the state, with Davis emerging as one of the most influential figures in the area.
Davis was an extremely active participant in a number of Florida’s premier citrus agencies and governing bodies. He was part of Florida Citrus Mutual from 1977-1981, acting as chairman from 1979-1981. He helped found the Hardee County Property Owners Association during the 1970s in order to ensure reasonable agricultural assessments for citrus groves and other agricultural properties. Joe served on the Florida Citrus Commission during portions of three decades, serving from 1979-1988 and then again from 1992-1999. Upon being elected chairmen for the first time, he was joined at his inauguration by his close friend and legendary baseball player Ted Williams. He served an unprecedented four terms as chairman and holds the distinction of chairing the most emergency freeze meetings. Despite his lengthy tenure, Davis was acclaimed for his superb attendance record, seldom missing meetings for any reason.
While part of the Florida Department of Citrus, or FDOC, Davis lobbied for an increased emphasis on marketing, which he felt should be a primary function of the FDOC. He lobbied other citrus growers in Florida to create a political action committee to help alleviate the strain that land development and the rise of high-tech industry was placing on Florida’s shrinking citrus industry. He fought for the establishment of a “100 Percent Florida” citrus identification in order to create global awareness of the high quality of Florida citrus. He is credited with creating the mission statement for the FDOC: “To enhance the welfare of citrus growers and the groves they operate.” He also worked to establish higher quality standards for grapefruit in order to increase sales. Through Davis’s leadership the citrus industry made important inroads into the Japanese market, a market that would become vital for the industry.
Davis also made his mark on the citrus world as an innovator who was willing to experiment. He was one of the first flatwoods growers to install underground tile drainage, to hedge and top his groves, and to double-set and inter-set older, existing, low-density groves to increase production. He also worked to refine irrigation, installing overhead sprinklers, then drip irrigation, and finally micro-jet irrigation, which helped to reduce water usage and to protect them from freeze damage. He was a strong advocate of mechanical harvesting, seeing it as a necessity to keep the price of citrus production competitive with emerging global markets. He has funded research for mechanical harvesting and even went as far to invest in a private company to promote the use of less labor intensive harvesting methods.
Joe Davis and his son, Joe Jr., created a buzz in the industry when they opened a massive packinghouse called Davis Citrus Farms on a section of U.S. Highway 27 between Avon Park and Sebring. The facility specialized in varieties of gift fruit, even offering a basket called the .406 to honor Ted Williams, who was one of the facility’s investors. Five hundred acres of specialty fruit was planted on location to support the packinghouse. But the much-publicized packinghouse was forced to close its doors in 2000, and the Davis family donated the facility to the Department of Agriculture, where it now operates as a headquarters for fighting citrus canker.
A sometimes controversial figure, Davis has been called blunt, outspoken, and determined by his peers. Nevertheless, his career is also defined by the worthwhile contributions he made to the citrus industry. Davis was inducted to the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1999.
Joe L. Davis, Sr., died in Lakeland, Florida, on October 15, 2014.