BROOKSVILLE — Ken Smith learned the dairy business from the ground up, milking cows by hand on his father's farm in South Florida. It was hot, dirty work that started before the sun was up and often didn't end until long after dark.
But Mr. Smith learned that success in the business required tenacity and spirit. By the time his father had handed him the reins of T.J. Smith & Son Dairy Inc., he already had mapped out a bright future.
Friends say that in the 1970s Mr. Smith outfitted the Hernando County dairy with the latest in automated milking machines, embraced efficient agricultural methods to increase hay yields and regularly attended industry conferences. According to longtime friend Billy Sellers, he was probably the best-read farmer in the region.
"Ken was very smart about the business," Sellers said. "And I think it showed in his dairy business. Other dairy farmers around here envied his ability to run the operation."
Mr. Smith, who died Sunday (July 22, 2012) at the age of 74, was considered one of the best sources of local agricultural knowledge. Although he formally closed the dairy in 2003, he remained active in the agricultural community until just recently, said Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service director Stacy Strickland.
Strickland said that immediately after he came to work in Hernando in 2004, he made a point of meeting with Mr. Smith, on the advice of several farmers and ranchers.
"I quickly realized his local knowledge went far beyond just the dairy business," Strickland said Wednesday. "He was a very intelligent man on a number of levels. I always learned something when I talked with him."
For more than 30 years, Mr. Smith was one of the county agricultural industry's greatest advocates. He served 31 years on board of directors of the Hernando-Citrus County Farm Bureau, including 15 years as president; 29 years on the state Dairy Advisory Committee, and 12 years on the board of directors of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation.
In addition, Mr. Smith served on the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission and for a time was a county representative to the Southwest Florida Water Management District's soil conservation association.
Erica Smith remembers her father as a loving, generous man who liked talking with people.
"I think my dad would have been great in politics," she said. "He was firm on his views, and he loved to try to persuade you to his side."
Mr. Smith is survived by his son, Troy; daughter, Erica; six grandchildren, and one great-grandson. Visitation will be from 2 to 3 p.m. today at Gulf Ridge Park Baptist Church, 20200 Manecke Road, Brooksville. A salvation service will follow at 3 p.m.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]