Dr. Joseph Orsenigo was a well-known research scientist and professor of plant physiology at the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center. From 1957 to 1975, he headed up the center’s research program in weed science, developing environmentally safe herbicide programs for sugarcane and vegetable crops.
Orsenigo was born in 1922 in Berryville, New York. He studied soil science and agronomy at Cornell University, but his education was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in Europe. He distinguished himself on the battlefield, and in 1945 he was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic actions during combat. After being discharged from the Army in 1946, he resumed his studies at Cornell, earning a doctorate in 1953.
Following graduation, he gained international experience as an agricultural researcher in Venezuela and Costa Rica. He was fluent in Spanish and later helped develop national pesticide laws for Costa Rica through USAID. This set of laws greatly improved the safety of Costa Rican food products and the health of the local environment.
Orsenigo returned to the United States in 1958 after accepting a position as a horticulturist at the Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, Florida. At the Everglades REC he was given full responsibility for planning and conducting weed control research. He worked to develop appropriate, environmentally safe herbicide application and use programs for sugarcane and vegetable crops. His efforts in the area of weed control significantly improved sugarcane production efficiency and helped farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area make the transition from raising cattle to growing vegetable crops.
Orsenigo retired from the University of Florida with emeritus status in 1975. He then went to work for the Florida Sugar Cane League, a non-profit trade association of Florida sugarcane growers and processors, as its vice president for research. In this capacity, Orensigo was instrumental in transforming the state’s sugar industry into a modern mechanized agribusiness. For more than 20 years he ran the Cooperative Sugarcane Variety Development Program, a joint project of the USDA, the University of Florida, and the Sugar Cane League. He participated in the development of eight varieties of sugarcane and oversaw the distribution of at least 15 other varieties released for commercial production in Florida. He also helped the sugar industry self-regulate and develop best management practices to protect air and water quality.
Orsenigo assumed important leadership roles in a number of professional organizations. He served as president of the Southern Weed Science Society, vice president of the Vegetable Section of the Florida Agricultural Society, and president of the Florida Division of the American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists.
He was widely recognized for his contributions to science and agriculture. In 1972 he won a Research Award from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, and an Agri-Industrial Award from the Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Florida Weed Science Society, and a Presidential Gold Medal from the Florida State Horticultural Society. He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Orsenigo was a vital part of the Belle Glade community and lived there until the end of his life. He was director of the Lake Okeechobee Audubon Society, worked with the Boy Scouts, sat on the local school board, and served as curator and director of the Lawrence E. Will Museum, a museum dedicated to preserving the history of South Florida. He was also an avid hunter, outdoorsman, and nature photographer.
Dr. Orsenigo died in 2009. He is survived by his wife Mary, two sons, and four grandchildren.