Doyle Conner is a fourth generation Florida farmer who was born in Starke, involved in 4-H throughout his youth, and destined to lead his state’s thriving agricultural industry.
While growing up in Bradford County, Conner got his start in politics by serving as president of his county 4-H club and the Bradford County 4- H Council. He was also active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and served as state and national FFA president.
As a 4-H member, Conner attended summer camp at 4-H Camp Cherry Lake, showed pigs, and did row crop projects. Conner’s early achievements did not go unnoticed. He was named one of the Nation’s Outstanding Youth by the Outdoor Writers of America in 1947, and one of five Outstanding Young Men in Florida by the Jaycees in 1950. He was also named outstanding farmer in Bradford County in 1959.
“Without 4-H I would not be the person I am today, or have accomplished the things that I have,” said Conner. “My leaders, Mr. Huggins, Mr. T.K. McClaine and Mr. Dyer all influenced me in some way. They would visit the farm, provide general counseling and provide advice on the projects the club members were involved in. They inspired us to do something with our lives and to be responsible for what we did.”
Conner acquired his political aspirations at an early age. While at the Florida Cooperative Extension Service’s forestry camp at the age of 14 (which was likely held at 4-H Camp McQuarrie in Marion County), Conner met Commissioner of Agriculture Nathan Mayo. On the spot, Connor declared that when Mayo was no longer serving, he wanted his job.
In 1950, Conner was dubbed the “boy wonder” of politics when at the age of 21, and still a student at the University of Florida, he was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives. At the age of 28, Conner rose to be the youngest Speaker of the House the state has ever had. As speaker, Conner introduced the agricultural assessment law, commonly known as the Green Belt Law, which enables farmland to be taxed on the basis of its agricultural use, rather than its speculative value.
As a young man in his early thirties just two decades after that fateful meeting with Mayo at forestry camp, Conner’s dream to lead the state’s farming community came to fruition when he became Florida’s seventh Commissioner of Agriculture. He continued to serve in that position for the next thirty years before retiring in 1990.
But he never forgot his love for young people. In a 1985 letter Conner wrote, “Nothing is more important than our youth, and there is no better way to have a positive influence on their development than through 4-H and the opportunity to acquaint them with agriculture.”
Conner received the USDA’s Superior Service Award for promoting agricultural trade and was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. He was also the first president and co-founder of the Southern United States Trade Associations, and was recognized as a National Outstanding 4-H Alumni during National 4-H Congress.
It is difficult to drive around the Sunshine State and not see some reminder of the impact Conner has had. A number of streets and buildings are named after him, including the Doyle Conner Agricultural Center, the Doyle Conner Boulevard, the Doyle Conner Building, and the Doyle Conner Office Complex.