Robert Whisenant is a Floridian agriculturist who was born in Cuba in 1903 and came to the U.S. when he was just a year old.
Growing up in southwest Florida, he developed an interest in farming from a young age. He decided to major in civil engineering at the University of Florida and took up a job as a bio engineer. With a strong desire to succeed and a creative mindset, he was bound to idealize and design some of the most effective farming processes we utilize to this day.
Robert Whisenant’s motives in agriculture were to help protect valuable natural resources. He worked alongside the Soil Conservation Service, and started by monitoring the usage of water on tomato and citrus crops. This influenced other agriculturists to improve the irrigation process on other farms.
In regards to irrigation, Whisenant also patented floodgates that were to be used next to saltwater in tomato fields. A floodgate is a gate that can be opened or closed to admit or exclude water from crops.
He also practiced sub-irrigation on many farms, including those in Manatee County. Sub irrigation is a process when water is delivered to the plants’ roots and is absorbed from above, whereas the remaining water is recycled.
He is also credited with inventing wide-row farming; a process most ideal for growing small root and leaf- bearing plants. This process is most commonly referred to as the Whisenant System. Whisenant also worked alongside the Bradenton Production Credit Association.
Whisenant decided to conduct his own research to determine better methods of multiple row planting on beds and fertilizer placement. As he was making observations he became aware fertilizer runoff was becoming a growing problem, so he decided to take initiative by inventing something called the Earthbox.
The Earthbox is a widely successful and helpful gardening container and tool that you can still purchase today. Its sole purpose is to hold fertilizer when outside conditions and soil quality is poor. It comes with a cover that helps prevent the rain from washing away the fertilizer.
When working on the farm, water and soil conservation wasn’t his only top priority. Many migrant workers participating in agricultural practices often lived on the farms, and the conditions they resided in were not up to par; the barns were often unsanitary, crowded and poorly ventilated. So again, Whisenant decided to take action. He protested against the migrant workers’ housing standards and helped change what were considered livable conditions. He was even known for housing migrant workers on his own farms in more suitable conditions.
Whisenant was inducted into the Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Fame for his outstanding efforts and influential ideas. This all goes to show that not only did Whisenant influence other researchers with his inventions and his effective farming methods, he also helped shape society’s perception on agriculture and what it means to us. He showed us through his protests that without struggle, there is no improvement.