LABELLE — While Hendry County UF/IFAS Extension Director Gene McAvoy is officially ending his duties at the end of July, he does not plan to leave Southwest Florida farmers and growers behind completely.
Mr. McAvoy will continue living on the small ranch near LaBelle with his wife, Donna, and — although he’ll no longer officially be the University of Florida’s regional vegetable/horticulture Extension agent for Southwest Florida, either — he’s in talks to keep serving in some educational role under the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ umbrella, eventually if not fairly soon.
He has served in the agent role since 2004, when his predecessor as Hendry County director, Dallas Townsend, retired. The post was created out of need.
“The industry demands for Extension services in Southwest Florida led to my position being converted to a regional specialized agent position,” he said.
National position awaits
Mr. McAvoy will be transitioning into a national role, meanwhile, as president of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. He takes office in September.
But, he said, “we’re going to be year-round here for the duration. We like it here.”
He’ll remain as close as a phone call to those for whom he’s become a dependable source of information, as well.
He wants to continue doing his newsletter, the Southwest Florida Vegetable Pest and Disease Hotline, in some form because the folks he’s been helping for two decades plus have beseeched him to.
“One of my options is to continue to do that,” he stated, as an independent. “It’s been mainly done by me. I have a few people I call for information, but they’ll tell me what they’re seeing, and I just source the news and put that together.”
It has many readers not just regionally but state- and industry-wide.
“What I do is just glean the information that’s out there from different commercial and university sources for what I think would be of interest to Florida growers,” Mr. McAvoy explained.
“This saves them from having to read through endless numbers of publications to find one or two kernels of information.”
But he’s not ruling out a return in some capacity to the immediate area.
Plans for a comeback?
“You may see me back, too,” Mr McAvoy stated. “I’m also in discussions with the university about coming back on a contractual basis. I can’t be hired directly by the state for six months or I lose my benefits, but I can work for a third party and then that third party can subcontract my services back to the university.”
So in a roundabout way he might continue with the IFAS.
In any case, two of his three sons remain in Hendry County with their kids. He expressed how happy he is about that.
“I would be remiss not to acknowledge the loving support of my wife, Donna, and my three sons, Chris, Teddy and Andy, in supporting me on this journey and embracing the Extension lifestyle,” he said, going on to proudly tell how his sons have also found work in related fields.
“Chris is an engineer in Clewiston, works with Johnson-Prewitt and does a lot of agricultural engineering. That’s the oldest. My middle son, Teddy, works with Syngenta Seed. He has a Ph.D. in horticulture, and works with the pepper breeding program for Syngenta.”
While youngest son Andy is still going to school, in pursuit also of a Ph.D. in biochemistry, “he probably will end up in the medical or agricultural field, depending on which direction he takes,” Mr. McAvoy said.
“They have followed in my footsteps, a little bit, yes, and I’m very proud of all three of them.”
His message to all those he’s worked with over the years, is this:
“If I can ever be of assistance, please feel free to give me a shout. As they said in the old Westerns, ‘Have gun, will travel’!”