Rudy Hamrick was a major force in North Florida agriculture for nearly three decades. As director of the Madison County Extension office from 1951 to 1977, his impact on the county’s economy was dramatic. When Hamrick first came to Madison, the tobacco industry was declining all across Northwest Florida. Farm incomes were shrinking, along with the population in rural areas. But Hamrick was determined to try to reverse these trends. Under his leadership, Madison County became one of Florida’s leading agricultural counties, a top producer of swine, poultry, and cattle. Hamrick was instrumental in developing the county’s thriving peach industry, and by the mid-1970s there were over 2,000 acres in production.
Hamrick was born in 1922 on a farm in Monticello, Florida, to a father who divided his time between farming and dentistry. He attended Monticello High School and the University of Florida, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1944 and a master’s degree in agriculture in 1950. He taught agriculture at vocational schools in Lake and Wakulla counties before joining the Extension Service as an assistant farm agent in Lake County. In 1951 he was appointed director of the Extension office in Madison County.
In 1964 Hamrick formulated a 10-year plan for agricultural production in Madison County. The goal was to double agricultural income. Committees were established for each major agricultural product. Members of these committees joined state and national associations and worked to improve both production and marketing. By 1974 Madison County had become the largest swine producer in Florida and one of the state’s largest cattle producers. A peach industry had been established, while the poultry industry had quadrupled in size to become the county’s single largest income agribusiness. In the end Hamrick’s 10-year plan exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. It didn’t just double agricultural income; it tripled it.
Agriculture was the main industry in Madison County, but for many years the county lacked adequate facilities for agricultural meetings and other activities. Recognizing the need, Hamrick successfully lobbied the Legislature for funds to construct a facility that would provide a centralized location for all agriculture-related offices in Madison County. Completed in 1960, the Madison County Agricultural Building housed the county Extension office, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) offices, and farm forestry offices. It was also the site of Farm Bureau meetings, 4-H meetings, feeder pig sales, quarter horse sales, and the annual North Florida Livestock Show and Sale, one of the largest livestock sales in Florida.
Hamrick always said the key to his success as a county agent was “liking people” and liking to help them. He believed in the power of education and in helping farmers help themselves. He spent most of his time and energy out in the fields, offering technical advice about both production and marketing. He knew how important it was to help farmers stay informed about the latest agricultural research findings, and he was known for his excellent teaching skills. Hamrick was the first Extension agent ever to be granted the status of full professor at the University of Florida, and he was also chosen by the university to train new agents.
It’s not surprising that Madison County’s 4-H Club flourished under the leadership of this gifted teacher. The program’s popularity surged as it was expanded to cover a new diversity of subject areas, including wildlife management and entomology, as well as home economics, cattle production, and showmanship. Hamrick lobbied tirelessly for the improvement and enlargement of Madison’s Cherry Lake facility, an outdoor classroom used primarily for 4-H summer camp programs. With its rustic cabins, open-air pavilion, and lush natural areas, Camp Cherry Lake continues to provide children with an opportunity for hands-on learning in the context of the real world.
Hamrick was recognized as one of the best Extension directors in the country. In 1964 he received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor given by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. In 1971 he became the first recipient of the SHARE Award for Excellence in Extension presented by the University of Florida. That year he was also named the national winner of the Ciba-Geigy Leadership Recognition Award. The Florida Association of County Agricultural Agents honored him with the Search for Excellence Farm Income Award in 1973, and in 1975 he received an Outstanding Service Award from the Florida Farm Bureau.
For Hamrick, being an agent was not simply a 9-to-5 job. He was often at his office late into the evenings, and he attended many meetings at night and on the weekends. He was a member of the National Peach Council, the Peach Growers Association, the Madison County Farm Bureau, and the Florida Association of Agricultural Agents. He was an organizing member of the Madison County Swine Producers, the Madison County Milk Producers, the Madison County Cattlemen’s Association, the North Florida Livestock Association, the Georgia-Florida Breeding Association, the State Feeder Pig Sale Committee, and the State Hog Cholera Eradication Committee.
Rudy Hamrick has two grown sons, Rudy Jr. and Bill, and four grandchildren. Myrtice, his wife of 58 years passed away in 2002. He and his wife, Ann, live in Madison.