Ledger reports tragic loss of Commissioner Horrisberger

Horrisberger served on the Florida Citrus Commission for five years

A celebration of his life will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando. In lieu of flowers, memorials in Jim’s name are preferred.

BARTOW, Fla. – Florida Citrus Commissioner James Horrisberger is one of four who died Tuesday morning in a helicopter crash in Nicaragua, according to news reports.

Horrisberger was traveling with fellow Florida Citrus industry veteran Phil Tope, of Tampa Juice Service, Inc., a subsidiary of the Costa Rican citrus company TicoFrut, who confirmed the deaths to The Ledger. Also onboard the aircraft were TicoFrut’s CEO Antonio Lacayo and the pilot.

“This is a tremendous blow, of course to the families of the men involved,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “It’s a tragedy none of us can fully grasp. But it is also a huge loss for the industry they served so well for so long.”

Horrisberger joined the Commission in 2010 and served as vice chair of the Research Committee. He worked as director of North American Procurement for fruit and juices for The Coca-Cola Company’s global juice business. Previously, he held various management positions in the juice business for Cargill, Inc.

“As one of the primary ambassadors for Coca-Cola’s juice business, Commissioner Horrisberger had a significant impact,” Shepp said. “He was, of course, very knowledgeable on issues related to citrus procurement and the global dynamics shaping the industry. He was a fixture not only on the Commission but also at industry-related events across the state and around the globe. He will surely be missed.”

A Lakeland resident, Horrisberger held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

“Jim and Phil were tireless advocates for our citrus industry and dedicated leaders for their businesses,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Their loss sends shock waves throughout this small, tightly knit industry, even as their reach was global. My thoughts and prayers are with their families, friends and associates who are reeling from this tragic accident.”

According to Andy Taylor, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Peace River Citrus Products, Inc., “Jim understood the juice business from a global perspective better than anyone in the industry. He had connections around the globe and always seemed to be ahead of the market. As a business leader, Jim didn’t dwell on problems and instead was always focused on finding solutions. We will miss Jim’s guidance and leadership, and will always remember his never ending enthusiasm and love of the industry.”

Phil Tope had been a top citrus industry executive in Florida for decades, Taylor said.

“Phil was old school and part of the respected group of industry elders, and his word was his bond.  He knew the industry inside and out from grove operations to processing and logistics.  We mourn the loss of a great friend in Phil Tope,” Taylor said.

This story will be updated as more information is available.