Thursday, October 14, 2004

Okeechobee Farmer Wins Award

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson and the
Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Foundation today announced the
agricultural leaders who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in February
2005 including Frank "Sonny" Williamson Jr. of Okeechobee, Fl.

A successful citrus grower, rancher and aquaculturist, Frank "Sonny"
Williamson Jr. is among Florida's most progressive farmers. He is arguably
Florida's -- and the nation's -- premier agro-ecologist. A visionary
leader, Williamson understands that farmers must protect and preserve the
natural environment in order to sustain their industry. For the last 25
years he has become increasingly committed to promoting responsible
environmental stewardship.

A fifth-generation Floridian, Williamson was born in Clearwater on December
15, 1929. After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in
agriculture, he went to work on his father's ranch, Williamson Cattle
Company, in Okeechobee. He devoted the first 25 years of his career to
Williamson Cattle, building it into one of the state's largest cattle
producers. The company now owns more than 10,000 acres in Okeechobee
County, as well as land in Alabama. Its holdings in Florida include over
1,000 acres of citrus and 2,500 heads of cattle. In Alabama it operates 48
ponds that cover 1,200 acres and produce more than 9 million pounds of
catfish each year. Not only is Williamson Cattle one of the largest and
most diversified farms in the Southeast, it is also a model for economic
and environmental sustainability.

Ever mindful of agriculture's interface with the natural environment,
Williamson is a firm believer that agricultural decisions should be made
based on sound science. To that end, he has been a tireless supporter of
agricultural and environmental research. In the 1990s as a governing
member and chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, he
persuaded the district to fund agro-ecology research conducted by the
University of Florida on Buck Island Ranch at Archibold Biological Station
in Lake Placid. Today he is leading research efforts at the UF/IFAS Indian
River Research and Education Center Aquaculture Demonstration Project.

Williamson has gained a high level of respect among agriculturists,
environmentalists and urban leaders and is known for his moderation and
fairness. Lending his leadership skills to a diverse array of industry
groups and conservation groups, he displays an uncanny ability to mobilize
people to make rational decisions and work together toward a common goal.
He has held leadership positions with the Okeechobee County Farm Bureau,
the Okeechobee Soil and Water Conservation Board, the Florida Chapter of
The Nature Conservancy, the Florida Cattlemen's Foundation and the
University of Florida SHARE Council.

Williamson is one of seven national winners of the 2004 National
Cattlemen's Beef Association National Environmental Stewardship Award,
presented by the Resources Conservation Service of the USDA. His special
talents as a negotiator and mediator were recognized by the Florida
Conflict Resolution Consortium in 2000 when he received the Ninth-Timer
Powers Dispute Resolution Leadership Award. In 2003 he was named the
Lancaster Sunbelt Farmer of the Year from Florida. That same year he
received the Commissioner's Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the
Florida Environmental Stewardship Award from the Florida Cattlemen's
Association. He has been named an honorary member of Future Farmers of
America as a result of his ongoing support of the organization.

Williamson's progressive vision has helped keep agriculture strong and
viable in Florida. He will be long remembered for his efforts to improve
agricultural management to sustain the industry and protect the natural
resources on which it depends.

Williamson lives in Okeechobee with his wife, Betty. They have three grown
children, Wes, Kim and Karen

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