Bert Edward Roper became part of a citrus family tradition when he was born Nov. 7, 1923, in Winter Garden. Though he has devoted his life since then to running the family citrus business, Roper Growers Cooperative, and other citrus interests, Roper is perhaps best known for developing a revolutionary electronic device that has made grove sprayers more efficient.
Roper is the inventor of the Tree-See Control System, an electronic sonar system that can turn spray nozzles on and off based on the pattern of reflected sound from the spray fluid. Since he developed the device in 1980, it has become widely used in the citrus industry, and has been introduced in the apple, cherry, plum and almond industries.
Today Roper serves as chairman and president of Roper Growers Cooperative and president of Citrus Service Inc. But he began working for the family business by hoeing trees for 10 cents an hour. His father, Frank, and uncles had entered the fruit business in the early 1920s before he was born.
In fact, Roper’s father planted his first grove in 1918. But the Mediterranean fruit fly infestation and the stock market crash of 1929 crippled Roper Brothers, as the business was called then. The brothers worked their way back into business during World War II, selling fruit and developing Full Ahead and Ship Ahoy brands. Meanwhile, Bert Roper completed his chemistry degree at Emory University and served in the U.S. Navy during the war. When he returned from the war, he went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh and finished his master’s degree in 1958.
After graduation, Roper came back to Central Florida where he helped build a concentrate plant called Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative. He worked there four years before returning to his father’s fresh fruit business where he remained until the packinghouse was torn down, according to an article in Citrus Industry magazine in 1995.
His love of science and knack for fixing things led Roper to try to find a solution to wasteful grove spraying in the 1970s. A new technology he developed for the family’s own acreage proved to be marketable industry-wide. He knew light projected into trees about to be sprayed could be used to turn the sprayer on and off based on the pattern of reflected light. But it wasn’t until Polaroid developed a camera with auto focus capabilities that Roper had the technology necessary to complete his project, according to the Citrus Industry article. Roper found an engineer at Martin Marietta who could design the device, and the Tree-See was born in 1980. Bert’s son, Charlie, now oversees the Tree-See division, and markets it all over the country.
In addition to serving as president of Roper Growers Cooperative and Citrus Service Inc., Roper is vice president of Space Groves Inc., and director of Diamond R Fertilizer Co. He has served the industry as president of the National Juice Products Association, and president of the Florida Citrus Processors Association.
Roper’s honors are numerous. He has been named a lifetime member of the National Juice Products Association, a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International, an FFA Honorary Chapter Farmer, and is the namesake of the Bert E. Roper Humanitarian Award, given to a deserving student by the Orange County Migrant Youth Association.
Roper lives in Winter Garden with his wife, Barbara. They have four children and seven grandchildren.