For more than 50 years Berryman T. "Buster" Longino has worked the Longino Ranch. His hands-on approach gives him a unique perspective on the needs of his land, allowing him to be innovative in his land management techniques, and letting him see first-hand which practices are best for his ranch and the environment. Practicing an active conservation program since the 1950s, Buster continues to work tirelessly to enhance and improve soil, water, wildlife, and native habitats. His main goal: preserving this environmentally sensitive land while maintaining a viable cattle, citrus and timber operation.
Spreading across 8,000 acres in Southwest Florida, the Longino property was originally purchased by Buster’s father and grandfather in 1934. Starting out as a turpentine business, the family-run operation has diversified over the years. It was in the early days of his family’s ownership that Buster began to develop his appreciation for the old-growth forests that covered nearly half of the property.
After serving in World War II, Buster went to the University of Florida to study forestry. As the turpentine industry in Florida gave way to timber harvesting, Buster’s forestry background allowed the family to improve the quality of timber being raised as a renewable crop. Recognizing the need to maintain a sustainable forest, Buster incorporated best management practices, including controlled burns, seed-trees, and selective cutting.
Buster also recognized the need to diversify. With just a few head of cattle and some advice from nearby ranchers, Buster began the Longino Ranch. Relying on the fertilization and grazing techniques developed by agencies like the Soil and Water Conservation Service and the University of Florida’s Range Cattle Station, Buster created a cost-effective environment in which to raise cattle. Frequent rotation between improved and native pastures, as well as limiting the use of fertilizers, enhanced the surrounding habitat while providing high-quality native forage. Buster has cross-bred his cattle with a variety of European, African and Asian breeds, to find the right combination for his Southwest Florida ranch.
To prepare the property for citrus groves, the Longino Ranch hired engineers to develop a state-of-the-art irrigation and drainage system. Miles of pipe were laid below ground to deliver water to the trees. To maximize the system’s efficiency, small sprinklers -- or microjets -- placed below each tree apply water directly to the roots. This method of irrigation nearly eliminates water loss due to evaporation and requires a fraction of the water formerly used in citrus groves. Although this system typifies Buster’s commitment to soil and water conservation, an even more impressive accomplishment came from addressing the groves’ drainage requirements.
During the late 1950s, the general recommendation from the Soil and Water Conservation Service was to drain wetlands. This increased the amount of usable farmland in South Florida. When Buster decided to add a citrus grove in the early 1990s, the Longino Ranch was required to dig an adjacent retention pond. Faced with an extensive excavation project, Buster turned to a solution more in harmony with nature: he would reestablish the nearby wetlands that had been drained forty years earlier.
The soil and water management practices used by Buster have increased the wildlife population, not only around the retention pond, but on the entire ranch. Deer, long missing from the area, now have a sizeable population on the ranch. Turkey and wild hogs are also abundant. Sandhill cranes are also frequently found on the property.
Buster has been active in community service, including work with the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Manasota Basin Board, Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board, and the Cattlemen’s Association. He has also served as a Sarasota County commissioner, as well as a Member of the Sarasota County Extension Service Advisory Committee for more than 12 years. As a spokesperson for environmentally sound agriculture, Buster often provides educational tours of the ranch to local schools, churches, and civic organizations.
Buster’s success is based on his willingness to do what is best in the long run. Diversification of the Longino Ranch has allowed Buster to sustain a viable agricultural operation despite the normal highs and lows of the beef, citrus and timber industries. It is his nature to evaluate and implement new ideas -- and always look toward the future.