Dr. James M. Davidson devoted nearly 25 years of his life in service to Florida agriculture. He made substantial contributions to the field of soil science and provided invaluable support to the agriculture industry through his leadership of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
Davidson was born on April 16, 1934, in The Dalles, Oregon. He earned his Ph.D. in soil physics at the University of California at Davis in 1965. He served on the faculty of Oklahoma State University before coming to Florida in 1974 as a professor of soil science at UF/IFAS.
Davidson spent 24 years at the University of Florida, moving steadily up the ranks. He was selected to serve as professor and assistant dean for research in 1979, and dean for research in 1986. In January 1992 he was asked to serve as interim vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources. In October 1992, after an international search, he was appointed vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources. In this capacity Davidson served as the administrative head of UF/IFAS.
As an administrator Davidson directed the statewide IFAS research program toward the most pressing problems facing Florida agriculture. He also made programmatic and organizational changes that improved the institute’s ability to carry out its mission. He focused on better coordinating the efforts of the Research and Education Centers with the needs of various agricultural commodity groups.
During his research career at the university, Davidson generated $2.5 million in research grants and developed dramatic conceptual models for simulating the movement of water and solutes through soil systems. The data produced from his research models have been used to generate conclusions supporting Florida’s agricultural production practices. His models are still widely used by local, state and federal agencies to describe the behavior of soil-applied pesticides and other organic materials transferred in water through soils.
Davidson published dozens of articles in scientific journals and industry trade magazines. He edited books examining the environmental impact of non-point source pollution and the effects of conservation tillage on groundwater quality. He did consulting work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency.
Davidson is a past chair of the Southern Association of Experiment Station Directors and the Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP) of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC). He is a past chair of the NASULGC National and Regional Administrative Heads Sections and a past president of the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists. He has served as a member of the ESCOP Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Groundwater Quality and Quantity and the NASULGC Committee on Biotechnology.
Davidson has been named a fellow in the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy. He is a member of the Soil and Crop Science Society of Florida, Sigma XI, the International Soil Science Society and the Florida State Horticultural Society.
In 1998 he was named Florida Agriculture Man of the Year by Progressive Farmer magazine and received the Top Tomato Award from the Florida Tomato Committee. Upon his retirement that same year, he received a Resolution of Appreciation from Governor Lawton Chiles and the Florida Cabinet in recognition of his many years of service to the State. He is listed in American Men of Science, Men of Achievement, Who’s Who in the South and Who’s Who in Science and Engineering.
Davidson and his wife, Peg, live in Gainesville. They have three grown daughters, Deborah, Jodi and Michelle.