There’s not much in the world of Manatee County agriculture that Mitchell John, 62, hasn’t done.
One of his first jobs after graduating from Palmetto High School was driving a tractor for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
He spent 25 years running the cow/calf operation for McClure Farms, and, in his younger days, riding bulls in rodeos.
Later, he grew watermelons, sold agricultural chemicals and was one of the first to introduce commercial blueberry cultivation to the area.
And yet, he was surprised Tuesday to receive the 2017 Outstanding Agriculturist of the Year Award.
The award, presented at Kiwanis Hall in the Manatee Performing Arts Center, caught John off guard. It was not until fair manager Dan West read the award citation and mentioned that John’s grandparents had moved to the Parrish area in 1918 and bought 110 acres there that John realized he was this year’s award recipient.
“I never expected this. I’ll never fit in their shoes,” John said afterward of previous recipients, such as Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Hugh Taylor, who were among the first to congratulate John.
“Well, nobody told me last year,” Taylor said, vouching for the security that surrounds the annual award.
It’s a good thing that I wore a good shirt today.
Mitchell John, the surprised recipient of the Outstanding Agriculturist Award
John came to Kiwanis Hall on Tuesday thinking he was supposed to talk about the youth livestock sale at the Manatee County Fair.
A reasonable expectation, given his long association with the fair and the youth livestock program.
But then John looked around and saw his wife and children behind him, and then his 2-year-old grandson Conner Dorman crawled into his lap, so he knew that Tuesday was a special day.
“It’s a good thing that I wore a good shirt today,” John said after he received his plaque.
John is the latest in a long line of farmers and growers who have made Manatee County a leading agricultural area in Florida, said Dan West, who presented the award.
“We are blessed to live in the land of Manatee with our fertile soil, our water, our temperate climate and the men and women who came before to pave the way,” West said.
Crystal Snodgrass, county extension agent, noted that it has been a tough year for Manatee County farmers.
“Our first farmers faced some of the same problems we face today,” Snodgrass said.
Because of Hurricane Irma, Manatee County lost 10 percent of its tomato plants and 50 percent of the fruit yield.
Also hurt were commercial shellfish aquaculture, pastures for beef production and nurseries.
Ralph Garrison, past president of the Manatee Farm Bureau, noted that this is the 60th year for Farm City Week in Manatee County. With tomato plants in short supply, Garrison grew the tomato plants that provided the centerpieces on each of the tables for the Outstanding Agriculturist of the Year program.
Manatee County ranks seventh in the state for agricultural sales at $298 million a year. Agriculture’s impact on the Manatee County economy is estimated at $2.36 billion.