You ask most Southwest Florida farmers who they turn to for science-based agricultural information, and they’ll say, “Gene McAvoy.”
It’s no accident the growers know him.
“When I first started to work in Southwest Florida, I would just ride around and cold-call visit farmers,” said McAvoy, now a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension agent emeritus. “Once folks got to know me and realized I could help them, they sought me out.”
For his work as an educator and spokesperson for agriculture during his 22-year career with UF/IFAS Extension, McAvoy has been named to the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, an honor he’ll receive Feb. 13 at the Florida State Fairgrounds near Tampa.
Eva Webb, a retired field representative for the Florida Farm Bureau District 8, can attest to McAvoy’s commitment to stakeholders.
“Gene has been known to travel from one end of the state to another to meet with a farmer having a problem,” Webb wrote in a letter of support for McAvoy’s nomination. “Gene never turns off his phone, he has never had an 8 to 5 job. I do not know of any farmer that does not know or has not heard of Gene McAvoy. He has had a tremendous positive impact on Florida agriculture.”
A Look Back
Before joining UF/IFAS, McAvoy worked for many years with small-scale vegetable producers in developing countries in Africa and the Caribbean. He also spent several years as a restaurant, food-service and septic tank inspector for the Florida Department of Health (DOH).
“It was a pretty tough time,” he said of his time at DOH. “But in looking back as an ag person, I feel it gave me an appreciation for the entire food cycle from beginning to end.”
He eventually joined UF/IFAS Extension in Hendry County in 1997 as the vegetable and horticulture agent.
In 2004, he broke new ground as one of the first regional specialized Extension agents for UF/IFAS. McAvoy worked with vegetable producers in five counties in Southwest Florida. The next year, McAvoy took on the role of county Extension director and maintained these dual responsibilities until he retired in 2019.
Less than a month into his retirement, McAvoy accepted the position of associate director for stakeholder relations at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, a position he held until July 2022.
South Florida Pest and Disease Hotline
McAvoy became well-known for his South Florida Pest and Disease Hotline, which he published biweekly during the vegetable production season. The hotline provides growers with up-to-date information on pests and diseases on more than 140,000 acres of South Florida vegetables.
“I started putting out the South Florida Pest and Disease Hotline in 1997 at the suggestion of growers, and it caught the eye of the publishers of Florida Grower Magazine,” McAvoy said. “They approached me about doing a Pest of the Month column, which I did from 1998 until December 2023. Interestingly, I never ran out of things to write about as Florida is ground zero for new pests and diseases – as they often start here – and was the first to introduce growers to a number of new arrivals during that time.”
McAvoy has received multiple awards. He’s been inducted into the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Hall of Fame and recognized by the Florida Farm Bureau and the University of Florida.
Since his retirement from UF/IFAS, he works as a consultant.
“It is going great,” McAvoy said of his consulting. “I have more work than I can keep up with.”