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John Smoak III

Lake Placid Citrus Cooperative

The Lake Placid Citrus Cooperative was founded in 1963 by five area growers.

John Smoak III plays a key role as President in the Lake Placid Citrus Cooperative.

He is a third-generation grower in his family of citrus growers.


They say that the true testament of a grower’s character isn’t what he does in times of prosperity, but in times of trial and loss.
Don’t I know it. I grew up to share a leadership role with my cousin, Mason, in the operation of Smoak Groves, Inc. Then in June 2008, Mason died in a plane crash. My family will never forget that day, but we’re determined to carry on in his name. I believe it’s a matter of staying positive and persistent.

I’m so sorry. That must’ve been a huge loss for your family.
It was—for our family, and for the family business as well. We’ve learned, though, that whether it's really good or really bad, it’s not that way for very long. We just have to try to keep moving forward.

How are you accomplishing that?
By holding on to our traditions and our integrity.

Doesn’t that go back across several generations of growing?
Right, three. My grandfather started our groves after he moved to Florida from South Georgia in the ‘30s. He instilled a strong work ethic in his sons, Edward and John Jr. (my dad), and later in us, his grandsons. Dad talks about sitting through business meetings, even as a teenager. Not that he wanted to be in meetings! But some of it sank in. Granddad let them make mistakes, and that’s how they learned.

Where did you learn about citrus?
Most of what I know is from my father and Uncle Edward. Also, from colleagues in the industry. My approach to growing is tackling three basic issues: Nutrition, pest and disease management, and weed control.

So, what’s your biggest challenge?
Guarding the trees from pests and disease. It’s an issue that’s constantly changing, but it never really goes away. We’ve got to be vigilant. We participate in a number of field trials with the University of Florida to develop solutions for the greening epidemic that’s become endemic.

You’ve also said that environmental protection is another key issue.
Yes. Our philosophy is that we are blessed to be able to farm on the land, so we have a responsibility to take care of it. We’ve adopted more efficient technology to eliminate waste in our plant-nutrition processes. And we’ve converted our irrigation system to microsprinklers at the bases of the trees. That saves huge amounts of water every year! My family also participated in a ground water study that monitors the fertilization impact of nitrates. And we helped develop some “best management practices”—you know, processes that are more economical for growers, but that also lessen the impact of the environment.

So, modern technology is your friend.
Yes, it helps us be both effective and eco-friendly in the groves. People can feel confident that they’re drinking healthy, natural orange juice that isn’t imported. Instead, it’s made in an environment that’s taken care of. And we hold it to a higher standard than anywhere else in the world.


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