Dan Botts has come a long way since his snake-chasing days.
Born in 1951 in Troy, Ala., young Dan would help his father, a civil engineer, with surveying work. Dan’s job was to keep an eye out for snakes.
From that beginning, he developed a passion for the natural world that eventually brought him to the job he holds today – FFVA’s vice president of industry resources – and to the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.
“Dan Botts is one of Florida agriculture’s most valuable resources. His expertise in crop protection and natural resource issues is second to none – not just here in Florida, but throughout the country,” said FFVA President Mike Stuart. “Over the past 30 years, he’s dealt with some of toughest issues facing agriculture and at the same time earned the respect and admiration of both growers and regulators, which is not an easy task.”
Botts will join three others who have made invaluable contributions to Florida agriculture as the 2013 inductees during the 34th annual Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame banquet on Feb. 12.
Along the way, Botts has acquired a reputation as more than dedicated to Florida agriculture.
After graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in zoology, he and his wife, Susan, moved to South Florida. She taught science and Botts was hired by South Bay Growers, a vegetable-farming subsidiary of U.S. Sugar Corp., as its assistant technical director. He became technical director in 1981.
During the next few years, the world of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals was changing. Environmental concerns were emerging and producers such as South Bay Growers knew they would have to work to secure products that were both effective and would meet new environmental standards.
Botts became the captain of that ship. Charles Wilson, assistant general manager at South Bay Growers during Botts’ employment there, recalled those days in a letter in support of Botts for the Hall of Fame. “Minor crops were in trouble. This new challenge was a burden beyond the capacity of individual companies. [South Bay] believed that the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association met the criteria to enter this new challenge. FFVA, although they had not been heavily involved in this arena, had the resources.”
FFVA needed an ambassador, and Botts became the first manager of the new FFVA Environmental and Pest Management Division. More recently, he was named the association’s vice president of industry resources. He oversees the association’s pest management, water and natural resources, food safety and sustainability activities. He works closely with regulatory agencies on behalf of growers.
Those nominating Botts to the Ag Hall of Fame list scores of achievements, two of which are mentioned most frequently. Those are the Spring Regulatory Tours that he oversees and his work helping producers gain access to the crop protection products they must have.
Since the 1990s, the Spring Regulatory Tour has provided hundreds of federal and state regulators with a chance to see firsthand the challenges growers face. Participants put on their sunglasses and protective headgear and follow Botts into the Florida fields to learn how crops are grown and harvested and gain an understanding of real life on the farm.
Lois Rossi, director of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention registration division, gained an appreciation for the trials farmers face when she took the tour in the 1990s. “This tour set a high standard for future crop tours,” Rossi said in her letter supporting Botts’ nomination.
Mary Hartney, president of the Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association, who spearheaded Botts’ nomination, said the “ultimate defining issue of Dan’s illustrious career” is his work on behalf of growers after an international agreement was reached to phase out the soil fumigant methyl bromide. The accord is known as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
“Each year for the past seven years, Dan and the team he assembles and leads have spent thousands and thousands of hours meticulously documenting the thousands of acres of Florida tomato, strawberry, pepper and eggplant production at risk without approval of the submitted applications for Critical Use Exemptions for the continued use of methyl bromide on those crops.”
Botts is an internationally acclaimed expert on the topic of methyl bromide and its alternatives and has traveled from continent to continent as a participant and speaker in the Open-Ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.
Botts’ most recent work in that area has been to help in the registration process of increasingly effective alternatives and to provide access to a “rescue treatment” process that will allow uses of methyl bromide and another chemical in case growers experience emergency pest situations that alternatives cannot control. “They would have the option of petitioning and being able to use a specific rate and formulation of methyl bromide and chloropicrin that would clean up the situation enough to allow them to return to the alternative,” he said.
During the past 27 years, Botts’ numerous accomplishments include being a founding member and technical chair of the Minor Crop Farmers’ Alliance, a coalition of state, regional and national commodity organizations representing producers of specialty crops.
“Dan’s leadership with the MCFA has not only protected and enhanced the tools available to Florida growers but also minor crop producers across the nation,” said Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, a trade association working on behalf of producers and distributors of crop protection products.
In addition, his leadership in the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation has made important research possible geared toward protecting the state’s fruit, vegetable and other specialty crops.
Early in his FFVA career, Botts formed the subsidiary Third Party Registrations, Inc., which obtains labels for crop protection products that the manufacturers would ordinarily not make available because of possible crop damage or low return on investment. Through Botts’ and his team’s efforts, growers are able to join forces to make those labels a reality.
He also has served on many committees for the EPA, USDA and other government agencies and played important roles in various industry coalitions. Mike Aerts, FFVA’s director of membership and marketing, has worked closely with Botts for many years. “You can describe Dan’s accomplishments in two words: profound impact,” Aerts said. “Whatever matter that Dan has taken on or been a part of, his involvement has consistently and repeatedly had profound impacts on the outcomes and results. His efforts have made for a better specialty crop industry in Florida today.”
Sally M. Schneider, Ph.D., who has worked with Botts on USDA Agricultural Research programs, said, “ARS is very fortunate to have Dan Botts to provide input on Florida fruit and vegetable issues. Agriculture in general is fortunate to have someone like Dan devote their career to furthering scientific understanding coupled with commercial practicality – and Florida gets to claim him as their own. I can think of no one more deserving of induction into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame.”