from the good earth

Fruitful Exposure

By Marcy Chapman | January 16, 2017
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A revolution for the citrus industry


“It is surreal, all that has happened since I appeared on the ABC-TV show ‘Shark Tank’ and presented my tree T-PEE invention,” says Arcadia farmer Johnny Georges. “I had never even heard of the program when I was invited to appear.”

That experience has catapulted Johnny Georges and his water-saving irrigation technique to international prominence. In Florida alone, he has installed more than 10,000 pumps and motors for the citrus industry. Farmers worldwide are saving 3,000% on their water usage every day, thanks to his water containment system, the tree T-PEE.

Johnny credits his dad, Rick Georges, for inspiring his business interests. In 1970, Rick invented the micro-sprinkler, a revolution for the citrus industry. Rather than using overhead sprinklers, water could be delivered by an individual sprinkler system.

“When I was only 3 my father first took me out into the groves,” says Johnny. “He gave me the vision I have today and the knowledge that life is what you make it.”

In time, Johnny learned how to rebuild engines and service equipment and always had projects. “When you are a farmer you have to be jack-of-all-trades, along with being a master of all,” he says.

One day, while “banking” trees, a method of protecting trees from frost damage by packing dirt around their base, Johnny remarked to his dad there should be an easier way. Rick devised a small cone from a plastic sheet that made banking unnecessary.

But it was still necessary to remove the cone after the freeze. Johnny put on his engineering cap, suggesting they could devise a bigger cone that wouldn’t have to be removed and would conserve water.

“It was the early ’80s and Dad looked at me like I was crazy,” Johnny says. “Nobody cared about water then. ‘Fuel is cheap and water is free,’ was Dad’s response. He was right, but now it has all changed. Farmers must have less expenditures and more efficient ways to water their crops. Today, it’s a different world.”

Johnny recognized the potential of saving both water and labor and created the T-PEE. The 24-inch cone keeps the water close to the tree, rather than spraying out nine feet. Now, eight hours average watering time is reduced to 30 minutes.

“Simple solutions to a complex problem,” Johnny says. “Every TPEE I put in the ground saves 25,000 gallons of water. There are 50 million orange trees just in our state. Do the math!”

“I spent years trying to educate local farmers and talking at schools and colleges about water conservation and ways to micromanage water. But old habits die hard and there is always resistance to change.”

In 2013 an intern at Florida Southern College proposed Johnny’s innovation to the producers on “Shark Tank,” which pits inventors and entrepreneurs against a panel of potential investors. His “Shark Tank” segment resulted in a farmer-friendly deal with entrepreneur and philanthropist John Paul DeJoria. When he went on the show, Johnny had put tree T-PEEs in five counties in Florida. Today, he is under contract in 47 countries worldwide, showing farmers how to conserve water for future generations and fulfilling dreams of both his father and himself.

“I have traveled everywhere since the show, from the Middle East to Brazil and Australia and across this nation,” he says. “I went from the guy who was pumping as much water as possible out of the ground to the guy who is now trying to conserve as much water as possible.

“The farmers—I knew I could help them.”

treetpee.com

Photo courtesy of tree T-PEE

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