Dudley Adelbert Putnam gave his leadership and support to Florida’s agriculture throughout his life. As a pioneering citrus grower and cattle rancher in Central Florida, he was active in a variety of efforts having long-term positive effects on the industry. Putnam personified the traits that have made Florida’s farmers and ranchers among the best in the world: He exhibited honesty, integrity, a strong work ethic, a solid commitment to family and community, and boundless love of the land.
Putnam was born in Chicago in 1909 and moved to Central Florida with his family when he was a child. His father had purchased substantial acreage at Hesperides in the Lake Wales area near Alcoma during the Florida land boom. After losing nearly everything he owned in the land bust of the 1920s, Putnam’s father returned to Chicago, leaving his three sons behind. Putnam scraped together enough money to pay taxes on the Lake Wales property and hold onto it. He saved money, purchased more land, and — little by little, as he could afford it — he began planting citrus, all with the support and partnership of his wife, Edith Langford Putnam.
Putnam began to raise cattle, too. He was never afraid of hard work, and that’s what it took to see his ranches and groves through such challenges as falling prices, hurricanes, and devastating freezes. He rebuilt and replanted time and again in the wake of storms and cold weather. He refused to allow himself to become discouraged. He was joined in these efforts with his brother, Thomas B. Putnam, upon his return from World War II.
Putnam’s business philosophy combined fiscal conservatism with a progressive attitude toward technology. In the 1930s he was one of the first individuals to establish a long-distance trucking company. He started his citrus hauling business with one restored burnt-out truck, and when the business took off he pioneered the use of tandem-axle trailer trucks for fruit hauling. He went from cross-country shipping to citrus processing. With the help of C.E. “Tiny” Williams, he sold shares of stock to establish a state-of-the-art processing plant in Bartow.
Despite his hectic schedule, Putnam made time to offer assistance to his fellow growers. He saw great value in professional organizations. Through them he worked unstintingly to improve the economic conditions of citrus producers and other farmers. A founding member of the Polk County Farm Bureau, he served on its board for over 50 years, in every leadership position. Putnam was also active at the state level in the Farm Bureau, serving as state director, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. He was a charter member of the American Hereford Association, the Florida Hereford Association, and Florida Citrus Mutual.
Putnam was not afraid to stand up for the interests of agriculture and was particularly vocal on water and tax issues. During his many years with the Farm Bureau, he spearheaded “out of the box” ideas while lobbying on behalf of farmers and ranchers. He worked to help pass the Greenbelt Exemption for Florida agriculture and helped secure a gasoline tax refund for gas used in farm tractors. In Tallahassee and Washington, Putnam demonstrated an uncanny ability to bring members of the industry together to fight for the cause of agriculture. He was humble when describing his efforts: “I lent my support to anything that was positive for agriculture,” he said. “When I finished one battle, it was time to take up another. There is always another challenge.”
Putnam instilled his love of agriculture in his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren who continue the family business. Today Putnam Groves and Dudley Putnam, Inc., include more than 800 acres of citrus in Polk County and 5,500 acres of cattle ranches in Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties.