We have taken a long detour from our northwestard trek along Florida’s Gulf Coast, but here at Palatka let us swing westward again and motor through a succession of little agricultural centers to Gainesville, seat of the State University and of the State College of Agriculture. Those two institutions make Gainesville such a mainspring of energy for all Florida that there has been more than once a movement set up to transfer the State Capital from Tallahassee to Gainesville. One travelling about the state with his ears open will hear mutterings all through the Florida peninsula to the effect that Tallahassee, by reason of its location far to the West and completely out of line with the path of progress in which Florida’s growth and development is moving, is too much under the influence of old traditions and points of view still maintained by the descendants of the old settlers of Northwest Florida. It seems doubtful that the proposal, frequently advanced, that Florida should be divided into two states at the Suwannee River, with Gainesville as the capital of the peninsular section, will ever get beyond the conversational stage. But it is referred to as suggesting the importance of the place which Gainesville occupies in the minds of Floridians.
The city itself has a population of 15,000; the University of Florida adds another 3,000 or more to that during the college year. The University of Florida is a combined State University and Land Grant College. Its College of Arts and Sciences dates from 1853, but its growth really dates from 1884, when Florida took advantage of the Federal law making gifts of public lands to state institutions which would promote agriculture, the mechanic arts and military training. The Agricultural College, now a part of the State University, was opened in that year. In 1904 three separate state-supported colleges were consolidated into the University of Florida. The result has been a unification in the state’s program of higher education in Florida which does not exist elsewhere. All the professional and technical colleges, including the teacher-training institutions, are combined with the College of Arts and Sciences in one place and under one board of control.
The President of the University of Florida, Dr. John J. Tigert, is one of America’s most distinguished educators. He was the first Rhodes Scholar to go to Oxford University from the state of Tennessee. He was appointed United States Commissioner of Education in 1921, and served in that post until 1928, since when he has been at the head of the Florida University.
The courses offered at Gainesville cover practically all fields of education except medicine and dentistry, including law, education, engineering, agriculture, business administra tion, journalism, pharmacy, architccture and allied arts. There is also a Graduate School conferring the higher degrees. The University’s equipment includes a 5,000-watt radio station W R U F, which has been in daily operation since 1929. There are more than 3,000 students in the regular classes, more than 2,000 in the two summer terms, and several thousand more enrolled in the extension and correspondence courses. Preference is given to the sons of Florida parents, although qualified applicants from other states are admitted when there is room for them, on payment of additional fees. As a Land Grant College the University is required to maintain a Department of Military Training. All physically qualified general college students are enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps for courses in Military Science and Tactics, under the direction of a United States Army Officer. The R. O. T. C. unit at Gainesville includes a Field Artillery battery, completely equipped. Students completing the full course are commissioned as officers in the Reserve Corps of the United States Army.
The University occupies at Gainesville a tract of about 1,500 acres, with nearly a hundred buildings. On the 200 acres of the campus proper are more than twenty modern and sub stantial buildings, all in the Tudor-Gothic style of architecture. Towering over the campus are magnificent, giant pines, beneath which are palms, oaks and many varieties of shrubs and flowers, combining to make the campus one of Florida’s most attractive bits of scenery.
Unique among structures of its kind is the athletic stadium, rectangular in shape, with tiers of seats on three sides having a capacity of 22,000 spectators, and so designed that it can be enlarged to double the present capacity. The University of Florida is represented in inter-collegiate sports in the Southeastern Conference, but most of its emphasis on sports is in intra-mural activities, the equipment for which includes two baseball diamonds, four athletic fields, six handball courts, two indoor basket-ball courts, a large outdoor swimming pool and two quarter-mile running tracks, in addition to the stadium.
The State College of Agriculture, for many years under the direction of Dr. Wilmon Newell, dean of the college, has a faculty of twenty-seven, under whom are given courses in agricultural science as thorough as those in any school of agriculture, with the curriculum especially adapted to Florida’s soil and climatic conditions. The College of Agriculture also operates experiment stations throughout the state and a numer of experimental farms on or close to the University’s lands. Its agricultural extension educational work touches every county through a state-wide corps of county agents and by means of its publications. There is no phase of Florida agriculture, no problem confronting the Florida farmer, on which he cannot obtain information and guidance from the State Agricultural College.
Out of the University of Florida have come a high proportion, if not the majority, of the leaders in Florida’s public life and civic affairs. Particularly in the legal profession is the training given by the State University highly regarded.
The University naturally pitches the key of the social and cultural life of the city of Gainesville, whose residents include a number of retired college professors and their families. It is a reposeful city, with wide, shaded streets and attractive homes, yet an active year-’round commercial center for the particularly fruitful agricultural regions surrounding it. Alachua County, of which Gainesville is the seat, ships more than 7,000 cars of farm products annually. Once, before the days of the boll weevil, Alachua was an important cottongrowing center, and the successful revival of Sea Island cotton has brought this crop back among the agricultural interests of the county. In recent years live-stock, poultry and dairying have become of increasing importance; the county is now one of the largest producers of dairy products. It is on the southern edge of the flue-cured tobacco belt of North Florida. While there are many fine citrus groves in Alachua County, it is near the northern limits of successful orange and grapefruit culture. Its agriculture tends more to the types and varieties of farm products common to the whole South, with watermelons and Irish potatoes holding a prominent place.
The biggest thing in Alachua County agriculture, however, perhaps the most important recent agricultural development in Florida, potentially the foundation of a great new American industry, is Tung Oil. No one can have travelled about Florida as widely as we have done on this tour without hearing about tung oil, not once but many times. From Miami to Pensacola, tung oil and the prospect of its development in Florida, is on the tongue of every enthusiast looking ahead to Florida’s economic future. It is almost an article of faith with many that tung oil is going to rival or surpass oranges and grapefruit as Florida’s major contribution to the world markets. One hears so much “booster” talk about tung oil, such apparently extravagant claims made about the income-producing possibilities of a tung grove, and encounters so many promoters trying to sell tung tree plantations or shares in them, that the realistic mind tends to incredulity.
The suspicions of the incredulous are allayed, however, when he comes to Gainesville, talks with the members of the State Agricultural College faculty who have been doing ex perimental work with tung groves for a dozen years or more, examines the voluminous reports from unimpeachable horticultural and scientific investigators covering a period of twenty years, and then goes out and sees for himself a 2,000 acre tung grove and a mill extracting the tung oil from the nuts, at a profit per acre to the growers which compares with grapefruit, lemons and limes at the same stage of growth.
It’s true what they say about tung oil. That is, certain things are true:
First, the world demand for tung oil vastly exceeds the supply and is growing faster than the supply is increasing. Second, tung oil produced in America is superior to and commands higher prices than the Chinese tung oil, until lately the world’s sole supply of this valuable industrial oil.
Third, no one has as yet discovered, nor do the chemical research laboratories hold out hope of developing, a natural or synthetic oil which has all of the qualities which make tung oil superior to all others in the manufacture of paints and varnishes and for other industrial purposes.
Fourth, the tung tree can be grown more successfully and productively on carefully selected areas of Florida soil and under Florida’s climatic conditions than anywhere else in the United States.
Fifth, American tung oil is already being produced in this country, much of it under far less favorable conditions than those which Florida provides, to the extent of more than 10,000,000 pounds a year.
Sixth, experience covering five years with commercial tung oil groves in Florida has demonstrated actual cash net profits from five-year-old trees of better than 12 percent on an in vestment of $200 an acre. Tung trees increase in productivity from year to year to an uncalculated age, certainly to thirty years.
Florida has been talking about tung oil and tung groves ever since 1905, when Dr. David Fairchild, senior agricultural explorer of the United States Department of Agriculture, brought the first tung seed to American from Hankow, China, the chief world market for tung oil. Seedlings grown from those seeds were distributed to experiment stations in the South. A comparison of results after twenty years showed that the ones planted in Florida had made the most satisfactory growth and yield. The only surviving tree of those first Florida plantings still stands in Tallahassee. From the seed of this tree the first tung oil was extracted in America. A later planting of several trees was made at the State Experiment station in Gainesville, and demonstrated so successfully that the tung oil tree would do well in this region, that investors have planted, mostly in this vicinity, more than 10,000 acres of tung groves, and established a mill for the extraction of the oil from the seeds. Nearly a third of the American production of tung oil comes from these Florida groves, the rest of it being produced in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The word “tung” is Chinese for “heart” and refers to the shape of the leaf of the tung tree. The leaves are a glossy dark green. A tung grove with its spreading branches is as beautiful at all seasons as an orange grove, and when the trees are in blossom a large plantation of tung trees is one of the most striking sights in Florida. The fruit of the tung tree, usually called a nut, although technically it is not that, is about the size of a small apple, somewhat resembling a black walnut still in its exterior hull. One writer has compared the tung nut to “an unsuccessful tomato.” Each fruit contains five seeds, similar in size and shape to the ordinary Brazil nut, and it is from these seeds that the oil is extracted. Tung nuts do not have to be picked. They drop off the tree when they are ripe and are raked up off the ground. No animals will eat them,
Careful selection of soil, by chemical tests and topographical contours, is essential to successful tung growing. Rolling, well-drained land with a definite slope toward the South has been productive of the best results so far. The Florida State Department of Agriculture is authority for the statement that the tung tree does not do well in the southern part of the state. The largest of all of Florida’s tung plantations at the end of 1937 was that of H. W. Bennett, near Gainesville.
Mr. Bennett, a retired cereal food manufacturer of New York, was nearly seventy when he began investing his capital in Florida, developing tung oil groves in the northern part of the state and Perrine lemon groves in the Ridge country. He purchased 10,000 acres of land, selected under the guidance of the State College of Agriculture, with whose advice and cooperation he planted 2,000 acres in tung trees, 60 trees to the acre, a total of 120,000 trees, with such successful results as to encourage him to proceed with the planting of the entire tract. Of the success of Mr. Bennett’s tung oil development the most convincing statement is one not originating either with Mr. Bennett or with the authors of this book, but by an independent authority, Mr. J. Francis Cooper of the Florida Agricultural Extension Service whom we quote:
“H. W. Bennett of Alachua County, Fla., has 2,000 acres of tung land under one fence. On 1,750 acres of this are growing 105,000 tung trees, 60 to the acre. The other 250 acres are not yet planted.
“In 1931 tung trees were set on 1,000 acres but a severe drouth ensued and half the area had to be replanted later. In 1932 nursery trees were set on another 1,000 acres, which in cluded the 500 acres replanted, and the following year 250 acres were planted. Thus in 1936 the trees were five years old on 500 acres, four years old on 1,000 acres, and three years old on 250 acres. Tung trees are considered as coming into production in their fifth year, although younger trees do produce some yields.
“In purchasing and clearing the land and bringing the grove to its present age, Mr. Bennett has spent $350,000, approximately $200 an acre for the 1,750 acres in tung. Farm build ings, fences, roads, equipment, and similar necessities are included in the cost. During 1936 he spent $39,500 of which $15,000 was addition to capital and $24,500 spent on the current crop of fruit.
“He has harvested 1,250,000 pounds of seed which analyze from 20 to 22 percent oil and should yield 250,000 pounds oil. Oil is now selling at 15 cents a pound, so Mr. Bennett’s income from oil for 1936 should be $37,500. In addition he has 187 tons of cake worth $40 a ton, or $7,480, and 312 tons of hulls worth $5 a ton, or $1,560. So the total value of his 1936 crop amounts to $46,540.
“Mr. Bennett and his superintendent, Albertus Miller, estimate that one-half of the 1936 crop was harvested from the 500 acres of five-year-old trees and the other half from the 1,000 acres of four-year-olds. If their estimate is correct, half of their income should be credited to the five-year-olds; this gives us a basis for comparing costs and returns on 500 acres of tung trees generally considered of bearing age.
“Half the crop value is $23,270 income from the 1936 crop on 500 acres, or $46.54 per acre. It is believed that the figures used in arriving at this value are conservative. Chinese oil is now selling at 15 cents a pound and American oil usually commands a premium. The tung cake analyzes approximately 7 percent ammonia, 2 percent phosphoric acid, and Z percent potash. Ammonia is now selling at $6 a unit, and the cake is valued at $40 a ton.
“Cultivation and fertilization costs ran approximately $20 per acre. Harvesting costs were $4 a ton, or $2.50 per acre, giving total acre costs of $22.50. Subtracting this from the acre income of $46.54 gives a net income of $24.04 per acre. As stated previously, the investment per acre is approximately $200. The $24.04 income gives a return of a little over 12 percent on the investment.
“These are actual returns and cover 500 acres of five-yearold trees which have received good care. It must be remembered, however, that the trees went for three years without bringing any returns, and that four-year-olds yielded only about one-half as much. Then too, tung tree blossoms get caught by a late frost every few years and an annual crop is lost. On the other hand, five-year-old trees are far short of full production and returns per acre should mount each year.”
For many centuries the Chinese have been using tung oil, obtained by crude methods of extraction, for calking and painting their boats, treating leather, waterproofing paper and cloth.
Tung oil enters into the paint and varnish on our walls and floors, the synthetic plastics in our toothbrush handles and radio-set fittings, the linoleum on the kitchen floor and the oil cloth on the pantry shelves, and even into the ink in the printed advertising matter that makes us want to buy all these things. The world’s consumption of tung oil runs above 125,000,000 pounds a year, with users complaining that they cannot get a quarter as much as they could use and are obliged to fall back on inferior oil.
In the light of all of these facts it is certainly reasonable to believe that in the growing of tung trees and the extraction of tung oil Florida has ahead of it an industry which may eventually yield an income of many million dollars a year.