Peter McClure (1956)
John Peter McClure was born on November 20, 1956 to George and Nancy McClure, making him, along with his three sisters and brother, a fourth-generation Floridian family. His great-grandparents moved to the Apopka area in Orange County in the late 1860’s and established citrus plantings as well as other agriculture ventures. In the 1880’s, they were some of the first to bud citrus seedlings to a desired variety. Great-grandfather H. H. McClure budded 31 citrus varieties on a single tree and took it by train to exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Even with setbacks such as the 1894-95 freezes, as well as those in the 1980s, the McClure family still maintains some productive groves in Lake County.
Peter spent most of his youth playing, hunting and fishing in orange groves that his father, George, managed in northeast Orange County for Libby’s Corporation. He would ride the groves with his dad to check the fruit and his love for growing citrus took root in those early years. Peter remembers the morning, at 6 years old, when his father woke him up at 5 AM and said, “Get up boy, you’re going to work”. He began his career at Foliage Farms, the foliage plant nursery his mother Nancy and father George had started. His first job was pulling weeds, then potting plants, and he progressed all the way up the ladder to spreading “race track”, a fancy term for sawdust and horse manure, on the stock plants. At 12 Peter transferred to his parent’s citrus business, Central Florida Grove Caretaking Service, where he worked planting trees, pruning, vine pulling, and finally as tractor operator. Peter loved working with the crew of older men, the early morning hustle, the teamwork and camaraderie that developed by working hard together. It was here that he learned the importance of getting things done and working alongside others, even when the work was hot and tiresome. He learned how to solve problems, pay attention to detail, and to work with others in a manner that was calm and respectful. Traits that would serve him well throughout his life.
Peter’s early aspirations were to be like his father, who was on the Florida Citrus Commission from 1972-1981 and was the Apopka Man of the Year in 1974. George McClure was a great citrus grower, but Peter learned patience and perseverance from his mother Nancy.
He graduated from Trinity Preparatory High School in 1975, where he lettered in four sports and was class President of the Student Council and attended the University of Florida studying horticulture for two years. He left school to help his father build a new citrus grove in Holopaw, Florida, before graduating from Florida Southern College with a degree in Citrus Production in 1981. While there, he was also Citrus Class President.
He started his professional career that year with the Minute Maid Corp., working for Jack Norris in DeSoto City as the nursery manager before being recruited by Bill Becker to work at Becker Holdings as their Assistant Production Manager – eventually working his way up to Executive Vice President during his 12 years there. He built the company’s first nursery, which produced 150,000 trees per year and was instrumental in introducing containerized citrus trees to the industry.
In 1994 he joined Evans Properties, Inc. as manager of the Bluefield Division, a 12,000-acre grove in Okeechobee, and continued in that capacity with Evans Properties for the next 15 years. Peter then became their Agricultural Research Manager, a job he held for 8 years, focusing on combatting citrus greening as well as evaluating over 40 different alternative crops.
During his career, he was involved in the Citrus Budwood Technology Advisory Committee at FDACS trying to improve citrus varieties through the proper regulatory channels to keep out exotic pests and diseases. In the late ‘80s and early 90s, Peter was part of the Diaprepes Task Force, and was able to garner special Federal funding to address the biological and management questions surrounding this emerging pest.
On the heels of the Diaprepes response, Peter was a driving force in the early ‘90s, working with a group of other concerned growers to develop early planning for a grower referendum to support research into the most important production issues of the day. At the time, there was little local funding for citrus research, and few national programs funded practical problem-solving research at ground level. The emergent Florida Citrus Production Research Advisory Council (FCPRAC) established the first round of funding in 1992, and from that point forward, Florida growers have had a continuous direct link to support research in their interest. In addition to helping organize this effort and get it off the ground, Peter served on the FCPRAC from inception, and was elected FCPRAC Chairman by his peers for 12 years, leading the review of research project proposals and the decisions on where funding should be directed. Peter led the effort to make sure that one of the projects funded was the digitization of the Florida State Horticultural Society’s proceedings. Since all research funded by the committee was required to be published at the proceedings, that meant that the research would be readily available to growers and other researchers.
With Florida’s discovery of first Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) in 1998 and HLB in 2005, Peter remained committed to working for fellow growers to seek solutions from all fronts. He participated in an industry-led effort to obtain use of several pesticides against ACP, travelling to Washington, DC to meet with the US EPA and other agencies to garner support for an HLB response. Successful labeling of several compounds for use in ultra-low volume sprayers was the initial success, but the lasting value of this effort was bringing awareness to the HLB situation in Florida and to attract the attention of state and federal research organizations, with promise of funding to support their efforts.
He went on to lead the Florida Citrus Production Managers Association, taking a stand in the forefront and leading the effort on critical industry issues, including canker and HLB.
When HLB was detected in Clewiston in 2005, he studied the disease intently well before most growers even knew about it, and realized that the only hope to survive HLB was to invest heavily – very heavily – in research.
He set his sights on the FDOC “promotional” dollars. Between 2008 to 2010, growers were providing FDOC approximately $60 million a year through their box taxes to advertise Florida citrus. Peter knew more money needed to be invested in HLB research or there would be no industry left to advertise. Using promotional dollars for production research was not a popular idea at the time, so he organized a “tour” for Citrus Commissioners and staff which was later referred to as the “death march.” They visited several groves on the East coast that were ravaged from HLB and showed the Commissioners first-hand what would happen across the industry if HLB was not controlled. He urged the industry to step up to the plate and fight this disease or face the prospect of losing one of Florida’s signature industries. Afterwards, the Commissioners gave a commitment of up to $20 million for HLB research.
Peter was one of 12 members of the Florida Citrus Industry Research Coordinating Council from the day it was established to bring all industry organizations together until it was absorbed by the Citrus Research Development Foundation in 2009, which was created so it could be independently run under the auspices of the University of Florida. He was an effective representative of growers and provided extremely valuable insight about research work underway, research needs for the industry and some strong suggestions how to fill in the gaps. Peter’s insight into the world of research and experience within the realm of politics made him a member of great value. His visits to Gainesville to meet with UF/IFAS VP and deans, and trips to Washington to lobby for utilization of the USDA-ARS scientists’ help in researching greening greatly impacted research direction, and his involvement of the National Academy of Science (NAS) resulted in an exhaustive study of the HLB situation. Their detailed report helped the CRDF tremendously in determining priority research areas, approaches to evaluating proposals and exposure to a wide array of scientists.
Today the CRDF has garnered over $100 million, funded over 300 projects with some of the best scientists in the world. His remarkable breadth of knowledge in the research arena allowed him to digest a research proposal of 50 pages and boil it down to a few minutes’ discussion for other committee members. This resulted in well-informed votes on which projects to fund and which to move past. He focused solely on directing research into areas that had the potential to provide useful answers for the industry, noting that it had to be “something a grower could hitch to his tractor and pull it through the grove.” Peter was one of the first members of the CRDF, Research Management Committee (RMC) and is now known as “The Godfather of the CRDF.”
In 2017 he became the Chief Agriculture Officer for Terviva, a California based start-up that is commercializing growing Pongamia as a drop-in tree crop where citrus has been lost to greening. A number of citrus growers are working with Terviva in this endeavor. Pongamia is from India and produces a nut-like bean that can be processed into oil and protein. More importantly, it uses the same infrastructure as citrus, can be grown profitably at large scale, and he is hopeful that it will be an important new crop for Florida farmers.
Peter has also been a member of the Indian River Citrus League, the Citrus Research and Educational Center’s Advisory Committee and the President and Chairman of the Board for the Florida State Horticultural Society, of which he’s been a member since 1981.
Throughout his career, he has continued to be part-owner with his mother and manager of the family’s Double K Groves in Astatula, while also offering his own groves as a collaborator for research purposes.
He is married to Sharon B. McClure, and together they have five children: Katie, Kristyn, Harrison, Davis and Lacy.
A recipient of the Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award, the Florida State Horticulture Society’s Outstanding Commercial Horticulturist Award, the St. Lucie County Conservationist of the Year Award, and the Florida Southern College Citrus Institute’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Peter McClure has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Florida citrus industry and, in true Peter fashion, is simply thankful to his employers for allowing him the time and opportunity to do so.
Dr. Harold Browning perhaps summed Peter up best when he wrote: “Peter’s adventurous spirit, curious mind, and relentless pursuit have all led to great opportunities for solutions to emerge in Florida citrus, and for this reason, Peter has earned the right to stand beside others whose service to the citrus industry rises above the ordinary. “