Wayne Hawkins dedicated his long career to helping Florida fruit and vegetable growers unite to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive environment. Farmers are generally an independent bunch, but when times are tough they look for leadership—and Hawkins provided that. He understood that what is impossible for a single grower can be accomplished by a group of like-minded people willing to work together.
Hawkins is considered by many to be the father of the modern agricultural cooperative exchange. For 40 years he worked to organize Florida growers, fostering cooperative efforts to standardize packaging, marketing, production methods, and post-harvest handling. Thanks to his strong leadership, growers were able to pull together to control supply while building demand for their products.
Wayne Hawkins was born in 1932 in Oakland Park, Florida, and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in agricultural economics. In 1962 he organized the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange and the South Florida Vegetable Exchange, a pole bean cooperative. A few years later he established the Zellwood Sweet Corn Exchange, the Leaf and Radish Exchange, and the North Florida Vegetable Growers Exchange (for potato growers). These organizations allowed members to establish prices for their products, approve standard packaging and marketing policies, and pass some of their production and handling costs on to buyers.
In 1974 Hawkins became manager of the Florida Tomato Committee. During his 25-year tenure, he helped guide the Florida tomato industry through a time of extreme transition driven by intense foreign competition and unprecedented domestic consolidation. The number of commercial tomato growers in Florida dropped precipitously during the 1980s. To combat further erosion, Hawkins encouraged cooperative action, organizing the first Florida Tomato Growers Exchange in 1989. The exchange gave member growers the ability to discuss pricing together and establish “floor” pricing and “trigger” pricing, which led to more orderly marketing. Significant progress over the years was the direct result of his efforts to organize and encourage the tomato industry to work collaboratively.
Hawkins fought for the Florida tomato industry tooth and nail. He traveled to Washington many times, speaking out for fair trade and against what he believed to be unnecessary and burdensome government regulations on farmers. He was a strong advocate for country of origin labeling.
Hawkins was also a savvy PR man, working tirelessly with the media to gain positive exposure for his industry and enhance its public image. He was an enthusiastic supporter of agricultural research, and under his guidance, the Florida Tomato Committee developed a strong working relationship with the state’s universities.
Despite the demands of his job, Hawkins still found the time and energy to give back to his community. He worked with Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and other youth groups to encourage young people to enter into careers in agriculture. In the late 1990s he convinced the Florida Tomato Exchange to contribute $100,000 to the University of South Florida to establish a scholarship fund for children of migrant farm workers. Upon his retirement in 1999, he established the Wayne Hawkins Agricultural Scholarship Fund at the University of Florida for students majoring in food and resource economics.
Hawkins’ leadership in the agricultural community earned him many awards and honors. In 1984 he was selected by the National Academy of Sciences to represent the U.S. tomato industry on a 16-day goodwill mission to China. During the trip he helped teach Chinese tomato farmers better growing, handling, and marketing practices. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford presented him with a Distinguished Leadership Award in 1999. That same year, he was given a Classic Award by the Florida Strawberry Growers’ Association in recognition of his efforts to promote the industry.
Wayne and his wife Carole live in Orlando. They have three sons, Derryl, David and Drew.