An organic citrus grower has been chosen by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) to receive its 2015 Farmer of the Year Award.

William “Benny” McLean, Production Manager of Uncle Matt’s Organic, is being recognized by OTA for his work in advancing organic agriculture and the organic industry. The 2015 Organic Leadership Awards will be presented at OTA’s annual awards dinner on September 16 at the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore as a kick-off event to Natural Products Expo East.

“Benny is a true pioneer in the organic citrus and fruit industry. He has truly changed—and continues to change—the organic world, our agriculture and the way we eat through his commitment, creativity and hard work,” said Laura Batcha, OTA’s Executive Director/CEO. “We are honored that he has been nominated by his peers and chosen for this well-deserved recognition by OTA’s Board of Directors.”

The OTA Organic Farmer of the Year Award recognizes a professional farmer who has made significant contributions to supporting and advancing organic agriculture and trade at the farm level, whether increasing the amount of land under organic management, expanding the number of farmers using organic practices, or advancing organic agriculture through farm policy advocacy, community education, or innovative land stewardship and technical practices.

Presenting the award to McLean will be Anne Alonzo, Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) agency.

McLean converted his citrus operation to organic farming in 1999, growing such organic citrus varieties as Pummelos, red grapefruit, Valencias, red navels, and honey tangerines. He was the first certified organic citrus grower in Uncle Matt’s Organic farm plan, and operates as the production manager for Uncle Matt’s, overseeing all of the organic farming operations for the company.

He is responsible for converting close to 1,500 acres of citrus in Florida to organic, and assisted over 25 small family growers to convert to organic production. He has also worked with South Lake Hospital to develop a community organic garden, and continues to consult with the individual gardeners on organic growing methods. He has also assisted avocado, blueberry, blackberry and peach growers in Florida to convert to organic.

In addition, he has been actively involved in research to find a cure to citrus greening through grants to Uncle Matt’s and with his own resources. McLean is often sought out to share his knowledge on pesticide usage, nutrient density and organic methodology.

“Benny Mclean has been very instrumental in putting Florida on the map as a source for organic citrus products, while also playing a key role in providing valuable insight into potential strategies all citrus growers, researchers and consultants could utilize in the effort to overcome the effects of the very destructive disease citrus greening, a serious threat to the future sustainability of the entire industry. Benny has happily been a mentor to numerous citrus and blueberry growers interested in organic production, and has proven what many said could not be done by making organic peach production in Florida a reality,” said Gary K. England, University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Agent for fruit crops.