Commissioner Putnam Announces 2017 Agricultural Hall of Fame Honorees


Contact: Aaron Keller
(850) 617-7737
Twitter: @FDACSNews

Oct. 12, 2016  TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Foundation announced today four honorees who will be inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame for 2017. These individuals have made outstanding contributions to Florida’s agriculture industry and mentored future leaders in this field. The induction ceremony will be held on February 14, 2017, and more information is available at

“It’s my privilege to recognize these honorees for their outstanding contributions to Florida Agriculture, and I look forward to their official induction into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

The honorees are:

Eugene Badger was born in Hastings, Florida and grew up on his family’s potato farm. This early connection to agriculture grew into a lifelong commitment of advancing and advocating on behalf of Florida agriculture.

Badger graduated from the University of Florida in 1949 with a B.S.A in Agriculture Economics and Education. Following graduation, he began teaching agriculture at Palatka High School. In 1952, Badger then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and received honorable discharge in 1955 with the rank of Captain.

Badger accepted a management position with the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau when he returned to Belle Glade, Florida in 1972, and was able to actively advocate for farmers across the state. Though not a farmer, Badger’s selfless mission has always been to mentor farmers to be spokesmen of the industry on local, state and national issues.

George W. Bush selected Badger as head of the state Agricultural Stabilization and 2 Conservation Service, now known as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Badger worked diligently to honor and serve Florida farmers by identifying pitfalls in the Federal Corp Insurance Program and pursuing opportunities to showcase Florida’s specialty crops. Badger’s strong advocacy and dedication to Florida farmers was underscored in 2008 by Senate Resolution 1366, recognizing Badger for his lifetime accomplishments in agricultural leadership and service to the residents of Florida.

Joe Marlin Hilliard was born in Fort Myers, Florida and grew up in Hendry County, where he graduated from Clewiston High School in 1961. Following graduation, Hilliard began working on Hilliard Brothers Cattle Ranch, which was founded by his grandfather in 1906, and later owned by his father and uncle in the 1920s.

Hilliard implemented numerous innovative practices to propel his operation forward. After joining his uncle and father in managing the ranch, Hilliard developed thousands of acres of native pine and palmetto woods into pasture by allowing farmers to clear and farm the land for two years, then planting improved grass. He also collaborated with UF/IFAS to educate farmers in South Florida about the Tropical Soda Apple weed.

Hilliard was one of the first producers to grow sugarcane on sandy soil, beginning in 1961, he created research projects with the IFAS Immokalee REC to advance his knowledge on this endeavor, and helped form the South Florida Agricultural Council. Hilliard revolutionized the industry by introducing mechanical harvesting to the area through the Sugarland Harvesting Cooperative, ultimately resulting in an industry-wide adoption of the practice.

Hilliard’s leadership skills have provided major advances in cattle, citrus and sugarcane industries. Hilliard has served as an officer of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, a member of the Florida Citrus Commission and a member of the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission.

William Cook was born in Tallahassee, Florida, where he graduated from Leon High School. Cook then moved to Callahan, Florida to join his uncle’s turpentine and pulpwood business in 1946. After Cook’s service in the United States Air Force, he returned to his career in Callahan where he began building his forestry legacy through the acquisition of the Callahan Timber Company and the creation of Great South Timber and Lumber.

Since joining his family’s logging business 70 years ago, Cook has seen the operation evolve from hand-loading trucks to leading the way in cutting-edge technology, diversification and integration. Cook has shared his passion for forestry by playing a crucial role in increasing the industry’s involvement in securing legislation and improving public outreach.

Cook was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Forestry Foundation, which provides ongoing financial backing for 45 teachers from across the state to participate in the Florida Forestry Teachers’ Tour to educate kids about forestry. In an ongoing effort to move the industry forward, Cook has continuously served on the Florida Forestry Association’s Board of Directors since he was elected to the position in 1974. 3

Dr. W. Bernard Lester was born in Havana, Florida and grew up on a Shade Tobacco farm, which produced the tobacco plants that provided that outer wrappers for cigars. Lester was involved in Havana High School’s Future Farmers of America, earned an Eagle Scout designation and received the Service Award from the American Legion.

Following his service in the Army Reserve program, Lester attended the University of Florida where he majored in Agriculture Economics and Poultry Sciences. Lester received his master’s degree in Agricultural Economics in 1962, and received his Ph.D. In Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M University in 1965.

Lester returned to Havana, Florida and began his career as a research economist with the Florida Department of Citrus. Lester was named Economic Research Director for the Florida Department of Citrus in 1969, where he was responsible for administering and conducting all economic research activities for Florida citrus products, and was promoted to Deputy Executive Director then Executive Director in 1979.

In 1986, Lester took a position with Alico, Inc. Board of Directors until 2005. During this time, he joined the Gulf Citrus Growers’ Association and was actively involved in all aspects of the association’s mission. He also served on the board for Orange-Co, Inc.; Agri-Insurance Company; International Fruit, Inc.; Florida Fresh-Pak; Saddlebag Lake Resorts; and the Sugarland Harvesting Co.

Lester provided leadership to Florida agriculture and landowners through his 20-year service with the Florida Land Council and has served in various capacities in numerous educational and service organizations, including: serving as a Trustee for Florida Gulf Coast University, acting as a member on Florida Southern College’s Citrus Archives Advisory Committee, Future Business Leaders of America, and many more.


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The Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame honors men and women who have made lasting contributions to agriculture in this state and to mentoring of our youth, who represent the future of agriculture in Florida.

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The video profiles of the inductees from 1980 through 2017 were produced by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. More information is available at:

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