Leslie Biting​

This winter many of us lost a good friend with the passing of Leslie E. (Les) Bitting, Sr. on Sunday, 30 November 2008 in Saint Augustine, Florida. Les was instrumental in the founding of the Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society (FAPMS), serving as its first President in 1977, and a second term as President in 1978. Les was also one of the founding members of the Florida Association of Special Districts; he served as the fourth President of that association which was originally created in 1976 as the Association of Water Control Districts, and served as a Board member until his retirement in 1995. Many of the FAPMS members knew Les through his service with the Old Plantation Water Control District. He assisted with the creation of the District in 1946 which was chartered by the State of Florida in 1947, and served as Superintendent with the District from 19 November 1946 until his retirement on 1 March 1995. Ben Bitting, Les’ father who was a cattleman all his life, moved his wife and five children from Nebraska to Hialeah in the fall of 1939. After moving to South Florida, Les began helping Frederick C. Peters with his farming operations in south Dade County. Mr. Peters grew potatoes and had a packing house in Goulds. The Everglades Plantation Company had owned land in Broward County which is now the City of Plantation. In the 1920’s part of this historical name was used when the Old Plantation Drainage District was formed. In 1941 Mr. Peters purchased 10,000 acres in that area for farm and ranch land. Then, in 1942, Mr. Peters started moving cattle under Les’ supervision from Goulds to Plantation to start his Broward County ranch. Mr. Peters and others were instrumental in the establishment in 1953 of the Plantation Field Laboratory, a unit administered under the University of Florida, Everglades Experiment Station, Belle Glade, Florida. The Plantation Field Laboratory was located on the north side of what is now known as Peters Road, just west of the current location of the Florida’s Turnpike. The 90-acre site which Mr. Peters leased to the State for the facility surrounded the area where the Peters’ ranch house and barn were located. The Laboratory was established to conduct research on vegetable and forage production on the sandy soils of the lower East Coast of Florida. Located with the University of Florida in 1954, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Soil and Water Conservation Research unit started a project to investigate the hydrology of several Florida watersheds. John C. “Jake” Stephens headed this project. He also started the first research projects in the area to control aquatic weeds in ditches and canals which seriously restricted water movement needed for agricultural irrigation and drainage. The aquatic weed research program continued to increase in size as other ARS scientists were assigned to the location. Later, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty were appointed to the aquatic weed research effort following the joint research program’s move to its present location in Davie on a 100-acre site; this representing approximately one-fifth of what was commonly called the former Forman Field, depicted in the 1944 US Army/ Navy Directory of Airfields as “Forman OLF, Navy,” a satellite training airfield of NAS Fort Lauderdale. The “OLF” was an abbreviation for “Outlying Landing Field”. The above two background paragraphs are included to illustrate one point. Les was very innovative in his work and was always quick to support and cooperate in research projects; he and the Peters family cooperated with the two organizations from their inception. This held true for many years. Bob Blackburn recalls that Les cooperated and assisted with the initial aquatic weed research conducted by the ARS in Plantation. The Old Plantation Water Control District airboat was used to treat Najas guadalupensis (Spreng.) Magnus. (Southern Naiad) with aromatic solvents. Southern Naiad caused major submersed aquatic weed problems for agriculture in South Florida prior to the introduction of Hydrilla verticillata (L. f.) Royle (Hydrilla). Les also cooperated in the early research that resulted in diquat and endothall products being labeled as aquatic weed herbicides. Researchers from around Florida and the entire United States who work on aquatic weed problems have always been blessed with numerous invaluable cooperators from the industry in Florida. Les was no exception; his early support is described above, and he continued to be a valuable supporter of the industry until he retired. As many who had the privilege to know him will tell you he never liked to bring attention to himself. Les liked to work quickly and get things done very efficiently. I will always remember when we had flown on the commuter airline, Gulfstream, from Fort Lauderdale to Gainesville for a meeting at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Center for Aquatic Plants with Dr. Bill Haller. Les was as economical as possible for the District, so typically, he had made a reservation with an automobile rental company that had given us a very good rate. However, the rental company happened to be a bit short of cars that morning. While Les and I waited at the car rental customer service counter, the agent kept looking through the available keys to find us a suitable car. Finally while he was still looking through the drawer, he said, “Mr. Bitting, can you drive a stick shift?” Les just smiled and replied, “Yes sir.” I could not resist. I asked Les in a voice loud enough that I was sure could be heard by the car rental agent, “Les, why don’t you ask him if he can run a dragline?” Good old super-polite, shy Les just smiled, bowed his head somewhat and blushed. The rental agent just paused a few seconds with his mouth open somewhat, and then got us some keys. But there were no more questions about what kind of car we needed. With Les’ passing, Bill Moore sent an email notification to the FAPMS Past Presidents for whom he had an address. To illustrate the high regard in which Les was held by the industry, we will share a few of the comments Bill received. Dan Thayer: “Thanks for sharing. What a great man!!” Eddie Knight: “Thanks for passing this along Bill. Les was truly one of a kind with his kind and giving manner. He is ever etched in my mind. Eddie Knight.” Wendy Andrew: “Thanks for letting me know. He was such a grand gentleman. Wendy.” I will also pass along Bill Moore’s comment he shared with me: “Les was indeed a great man, admired by all who knew him. Bill.”