Robert G. “Bob” Pitman, Jr. (1911-1998)
- Florida Agricultural Tax Law
- Budwood Certification Program
- Florida Citrus Research Foundation
Robert G. “Bob” Pitman, Jr. was born in Bluntstown, FL in 1911 and moved to Apopka in 1917. He attended Apopka public schools through the 8th grade and then transferred to Ocoee High School where his father was principal for grades 9-11. He graduated from Georgia Military Academy in 1929, receiving “Outstanding Cadet of the Year” honors, and went on to the University of Florida where he graduated with an Associate Bachelor of Education in 1933. Shortly after graduation, he married Katherine “Sis” Schirard, and together they had three children: Robert, John and Pam.
Bob had an unbelievable athletic career in football, baseball and coaching. He was All-state in multiple sports, played professional baseball, and coached several state champion high school football teams before returning to the University of Florida, to pursue his Master’s in Education. While there, he coached football and baseball, as well as developing and teaching the Army Air Corps Physical Fitness Program. His will to win and strength of character were honed in his early years of sports and competition, and would guide him greatly in the years to follow.
Shortly after receiving his Master’s degree in 1946, Bob left his coaching position at the University of Florida to join his father in the citrus business in Apopka, Florida. In 1948 he was instrumental in obtaining a patent on the Ponkan citrus fruit, a fancy variety of citrus that was developed by his father. Together they developed Florida Ponkan Corporation, one of the largest and most influential citrus nurseries in the state of Florida at that time and the only source of the Ponkan tree for many years.
During the winter of 1956 there was a prediction of a hard freeze in Central Florida area and Bob decided to experiment with irrigation as a means of frost protection on his citrus nursery trees – which had not been done at that time. During the devastating freeze of 1957 he again used irrigation and was able to protect over 60,000 nursery trees. All of the trees were saved and were dug and delivered only a few weeks after the freeze. His success in saving those trees prompted increased interest in using water on citrus as a method of frost protection, and irrigation has become an industry standard for frost protection as a result of his cooperative work with the scientists at UF and the extension service.
By 1958, Bob saw the need to establish a professional group of citrus nurserymen in the state. He was one of the organizers and charter members of the Florida Citrus Nurseryman’s Association and served as the founding president of the organization.
Working through the Florida Citrus Nurseryman’s Association, he pushed for the Florida nurserymen to develop a Budwood Registration Program. He could foresee the time when all budwood used in the state could be registered as virus free. In support of the program, he planted one of the first scion groves in the state to supply growers with budwood registered free of these viruses. He was deeply involved in managing the registration program for over 16 years. Part of that involvement included helping to found the Hughes Memorial Budwood Foundation, a citrus budwood program of nucellar budwood, where he served as a director for many years.
During the 1950s and 1960s he worked continually with Dr. Al Krezdorn at the University of Florida and Dr. Frank Gardner with the USDA to improve the quality of citrus in the state. The University of Florida and USDA had developed a number of superior rootstocks and scions that were virus free with higher solids and more tolerance to cold. They were also developing many new varieties with exceptional quality that could be harvested early in the season before the threat of cold damage. Bob stayed on the cutting edge of these new developments, working to bring the new rootstocks and scions into production as swiftly as possible and making them available to the growers around the state. He changed and expanded his Apopka nursery operation to satisfy the growing demand for standard citrus varieties stimulated by the advent of concentrate.
For many years Bob lobbied the Florida Legislature to enact laws providing a property tax break for agricultural lands. The result was the Greenbelt Law (FS 193.461 (3) (b), passed in 1959, in which properties that were bona fide agricultural operations were taxed according to their current use, rather than their potential use as commercial or residential properties. Then as now, tax assessments for qualifying lands are lower than those for other uses. For property to qualify for this agricultural classification, land must be used in good faith for commercial agricultural purposes. Greenbelt allows agriculture to supply green spaces, buffers against development, water recharge and wildlife habitat – all benefits to the public, provided at no public cost. As a result of the Greenbelt Law, bona fide citrus growers are able to save considerable ad valorem tax dollars. Thus, over the 50 plus years since Bob’s efforts the Florida citrus grower has been able to save billions in reduced taxes!
Bob also realized that tax relief was a “two edged sword.” After the freezes farmers needed help to be able to keep their land, and the county needed farmers to keep land undeveloped to protect water recharge areas. If Central Florida became a land of asphalt and cement, with no areas reserved for recharging the water into the aquifer, everyone suffered. Henry Swanson, the longtime Orange County agent initiated a resolution that he dubbed the “Blue Belt” that would address the need of reserving these recharge areas. Bob worked long and hard with Henry to get this resolution before the legislature and it was eventually passed. This was in addition to his tireless work to get the “Greenbelt Law” enacted.
However, his true passion was the sea, and he used his passion to woo friends and foes alike to his causes through numerous fishing trips from his home in Cape Canaveral on the Bob Kat’s I, II, and III.
Selected for both the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame and the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982, Bob Pitman contributed his time and energy to numerous organizations. He served as a longtime Director of the Florida Tax Council, the Soil Conservation Service, the Hughes Memorial Budwood Foundation and the Orange County Farm Bureau – serving as President of both that organization and the Florida Citrus Research Foundation (the Whitmore Foundation) – and was a charter member of the Florida Nurseryman and Growers Association, in addition to his time at the Florida Citrus Nurserymen’s Association. He was a member of both Florida Citrus Mutual and Florida Farm Bureau, where he served on the Legislative Committee and Lobby for over 20 years.
Regarded by his peers as “The Voice of Agriculture,” Bob Pitman’s contributions resonate throughout the industry to this day, and it is truly an honor to welcome him as a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!