Amid national beef shortage, Florida cattle industry looks strong
Published: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
The Florida cattle industry is poised to grow to help offset a nationwide shortage of cows due to drought and as land for other uses becomes less in demand, according to Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association.
Handley was keynote speaker at the Farm-City Week luncheon Wednesday at the Paramount Plaza Hotel sponsored by two local Kiwanis clubs, the Alachua County Cattlemen's Association, the Alachua County Farm Bureau and the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Recent droughts in the West and Midwest have led to a 61-year low in cattle population, and economists predict record profits over the next three to five years, Handley said.
"We're enjoying the benefits of a tight supply. Our export demand is skyrocketing, and our domestic demand is quite strong," he said. "It's getting to the point that it's crucial to see herd rebuilding."
The state's brood-cow population dropped to 910,000 from a high of 965,000 as ranch land was developed, but has stabilized in recent years with the land boom over and some citrus land converted to pasture as a result of citrus disease, he said.
An affiliate of the Mormon church that recently bought 383,000 acres from the St. Joe Paper Co. in the Florida Panhandle will convert some of the timberland to cattle pasture, he said. The church already owns the largest cow-calf operation in the nation with 44,000 head at Deseret Ranches in Central Florida.
Demand for local and grass-fed beef is leading to expanded operations for finished cattle, a small but growing sector of the Florida cattle industry, Handley said.
That includes plans to expand Adena Springs Ranch in Marion County, as well as cattle farms in Suwannee and Sumter counties.
Most Florida calves are shipped to the Midwest for growing and finishing.
Handley credited IFAS' work in animals, plants, soil and biology for having an impact on cattle and all other agricultural operations in the state.
"The research and development arm of Florida farming and ranching truly is the University of Florida and Florida A&M," he said.
Handley said the Cattlemen's Association has self-imposed rules for managing nutrient runoff to improve water quality, and that it works with state agencies to manage properties responsibly.
"We're guilty of enjoying our ranches and not talking to people out of the ranching community enough that we embrace science."
Farm-City Week is designed to bridge the gap between "food and fiber" producers and consumers.
City Commissioner Susan Bottcher read a proclamation designating Nov. 20-27 as Farm-City Week and emphasizing the need for cooperation and understanding between farmers and consumers.
Beef cattle is a $670 million industry in Florida with 1.6 million cattle, including 115,000 dairy cows and 910,000 brood cows. Alachua County has 45,000 cattle, 11th most in the state, and ranks seventh with 26,000 brood cows.