The 2002 Winner: Annette Barnett Land
When asked where she is from, Annette Barnett Land is likely to answer by singing "Way down upon the Suwannee River." With roots in the Suwannee County town of Branford, Annette is a proud fifth-generation Florida agriculturist who has spent her life raising cattle, growing and promoting produce, and selling agricultural real estate.
Annette was born February 8, 1941, and spent most of her youth working on the family farm that produced tobacco, peanuts, corn, watermelons, and cattle. Her father, L.L. Barnett, invented many farm implements, including the first tobacco setter. Her family owned the first tractor in Suwannee County. During World War II, her family produced peanuts for American soldiers.
Second in her class at Branford High School, Annette’s education went on to include attendance at Edison Community College, the University of Florida, Lasalle Accounting School, Sante Fe Community College, Bert Rogers School of Real Estate, University of Central Florida (GRI), and H&R Block Tax School.
During the 1960s, she was in charge of accounting, fertilizer formulas, and weights and measures for Henry Ward Feed and Fertilizer and facilitated that company’s move to Branford, which provided a major economic boost for the Suwannee River valley. In 1966 Annette and her husband, Raymon, went to work in the watermelon business with Annette’s uncle in LaBelle, and began an active involvement in the watermelon and trucking industries.
Moving to Immokalee, the Lands grew pepper, cucumber, squash, and watermelon. During these years, Annette became involved in agricultural politics and began working with the Florida Department of Agriculture to spread the message that Florida produce was the best in the nation and to promote her favorite product – watermelon. The Lands moved back to North Florida, and their business continued to expand while Annette gained experience in both cattle production and the growing of fruits and vegetables.
Much has changed since Annette was a young girl and her family sent their products to northern markets by loading them on trains. Today, Land Truck Brokers, Inc., loads semi-tractor trailers that haul produce directly to Eastern, Midwestern, and Canadian markets.
Ground breakers in the watermelon industry, the Lands changed from shipping only bulk loads to also loading cartons, bins, and boxes. They also led the move from large-seeded melons to smaller-seeded and seedless melons. In North Florida years ago there were no irrigated watermelons, and the Land family led the way from walking rigs to overhead irrigation as well as to the use of plastic mulch used with drip irrigation as a means of saving water. Because of consumer demand for packaged product, the Lands premiered the idea of a watermelon packinghouse and opened facilities throughout Florida and in other states.
In 1974, Annette became a real estate broker and the owner of Land Brokerage Realtor, a company specializing in the sale and service of real estate in the Suwannee River Valley. She is involved in legislative activity concerning real estate in Florida and in the Florida Ag in the Classroom programs that bring awareness of Florida agriculture into schools.
Annette has served as a public health director in Lafayette County. She helped organize the Bank of Florida in Chiefland, where she served as Bank Director. A devoted supporter of youth organizations, her love for agriculture is evident when she talks about Future Farmers of America, where her two sons and eldest grandson have excelled in their chapters’ programs. She is an active member of FFA alumni and in 1990 was awarded the prestigious Honorary American FFA Degree.
In 1987-88, Annette worked on the "Save Our Rivers Act" and through her real estate business was able to set aside more than seven miles of preservation lands along the Suwannee River. Raymon and Annette gave a portion of a sale of property located at the confluence of the Sante Fe and Suwannee River as a perpetual wildlife sanctuary to remain native and protected while open to the public for hiking and horseback riding.
Today, the Lands own one of the larger beef cattle operations in North Florida and one of the largest watermelon businesses east of the Mississippi. Annette serves as a director of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, a position appointed by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman. Annette was then selected by fellow board members to be secretary/treasurer. During her 30-plus years supporting the Florida Watermelon Association and the National Watermelon Association, Annette has traveled extensively throughout Florida and the United States working on watermelon promotions and advertisements and tirelessly propounding the health message that "Watermelon is good for you; it’s loaded with vitamins A and C and lycopene." In recognition of the Land family’s long service, the 1985 proceedings of the National Watermelon Association were dedicated to Raymon and Annette Land.
The entire Land family is involved in the Watermelon industry. Raymon has served as president of both the state and national associations. Son, Jody, assumes the office of president of the National Watermelon Association in February 2003. Raymon is an ex officio of the Florida Watermelon Association, while Jody serves on the executive council, and the Lands’ other son, Adrian, serves on the board of directors.
Annette has served her community through her work with schools, civic and church groups. She and her husband support the PanAmerican Health Service mission in Honduras as well as a Baptist mission they are helping to build in Rosewood, Florida. Believing that the future of Florida agriculture lies in the education of the young agriculturist to think smarter than ever before, she has supported youth in athletics, agriculture, music, and reading.
Some of Annette’s other association memberships include the Florida Cattlemen Association, National Angus Association, Florida Cutting Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association, and Suwannee River Riding Club.
Her favorite hobbies include music, playing the piano, swimming, horseback riding, snow skiing, and growing plants. Annette’s favorite fun times are spending time with her family, playing the piano and Clavinova for her church, sharing stories and cooking southern meals, where her table will display beef and fresh fruits and vegetables – usually produced in Florida, of course.