During his long and distinguished career as a tobacco farmer and horticulturist, Donald Farris May made numerous and significant contributions to Florida’s agricultural industry. Whether he was working to develop irrigation systems, fertilizers, mechanization, or plant propagation, May was an innovative leader in the area of tobacco production, and “from the seed bed to the packing house” was always trying to improve the quality of the product and the financial base of the industry. It was while he was still involved in the tobacco industry that he orchestrated the development of the Florida Hybrid Seed Company to improve cigar leaf tobacco production by developing hybrid seeds, which he made available to all tobacco growers in the area.
But as tobacco production moved to Central America in the late 1960s, May and his brother and partner, Fount, realized the necessity of diversification and were the first in Gadsden County to break away from the tobacco farming tradition when they converted one of their farms to a wholesale nursery in 1971. Container-grown plants were a new concept then, but May, with the help of his two sons and two nephews, began building the new business. With a philosophy of “anything they can do, we can do better,” they built a three-acre production into a 100-acre nursery in just eight years.
As May learned the nursery business, he continued to maintain an open-door policy, regularly sharing his findings with others in the industry who asked for information on the latest products or techniques. As a result, nurserymen came to rely on May for the cutting-edge technology of container production. Because of his influence, the nursery industry today is a vital part of the Gadsden County economy.
May was born in Quincy on February 18, 1917. He died on March 22, 1992.
Graduating from Quincy High School in 1935, he went on to earn a bachelors degree in agriculture from the University of Florida. May served his country during World War II as a U.S. Air Force flight instructor for B-24 and B-29 aircraft. After the war, he would go on to become the president of May Tobacco Company, Florida Hybrid Seed Company, and May Nursery, Inc.
Active in many professional societies throughout his career, May was a board member of the Georgia-Florida Leaf Tobacco Growers Association and on its organization committee; president of the West Florida Livestock Association; and president and a member of the board of directors of the Gadsden County Farm Bureau. He was also a member of the Southern Nurserymen’s Association, the American Association of Nurserymen, and the International Plant Propagation Society.
May’s service to Florida agriculture was recognized by many farming and business organizations. Among his many honors, he received a Florida Department of Commerce Small Business Award; an Outstanding Farmer Award from the Gadsden County Farm Bureau; and was inducted into the Florida Nurseryman and Growers Association Hall of Fame.
May was an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, chairman of the Gadsden Association of Retarded Citizens, and board member of the Boy Scouts of America. He was also a contributing member of Gadsden Arts, Inc., and the Quincy Music Theater.