Richard Gaskalla spent four decades on the front lines defending Florida agriculture from plant pests and diseases and protecting markets and the environment. Throughout his regulatory career, he was hailed as astute, fair-minded and empathetic to producers under siege by phytosanitary threats.
Gaskalla developed a green thumb at an early age helping his grandfather, who was a lifelong gentleman farmer. He moved to Florida from Ohio as a child and later graduated from Florida State University in 1975 with a degree in biological science.
He began his career with the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Plant Industry, eventually being promoted in 1988 to director. He served under five agriculture commissioners in a period that would see producers endure crop infestations of the Mediterranean and other fruit flies of economic importance as well as citrus canker and greening.
Gaskalla directed the Citrus Canker Eradication Program, the largest such program in Florida’s history. He represented FDACS as the lead mediator between the public, growers, the research community and the regulatory community at the state, federal and international levels. When that ended, he represented FDACS in partnership with USDA and UF/IFAS in establishing and implementing the Citrus Health Response Program.
Also under his leadership, numerous research trials and biological methods were established to help control or eradicate exotic pest threats such as red bay ambrosia beetle, citrus psyllid, Mediterranean fruit fly, pink hibiscus, mealy bug, brown citrus aphid, cactus moth, giant African snail and more.
Gaskalla received numerous honors, including the USDA’s Administrators Award, FNGLA’s Friend of the Industry Award and the Commissioner’s Distinguished Achievement Award. He held leadership positions with USDA’s National Plant Board and the Citrus Canker Technical Advisory Committee, and he chaired the Special Task Force on Citrus Canker.
He retired in 2015 and lives in Palm Coast with his family, enjoying tennis, gardening, fishing and boating.