Title: 1998 Ag-Environmental: Longino Ranch
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Berryman T. “Buster” Longino, President/Ranch Manager, Longino Ranch, Inc.: I am a hands-on rancher, and I enjoy it. And there are a lot of ranchers that do this because they enjoy doing it. Sometimes it’s a necessity and in my case a lot of times it's a necessity, but it’s one that I enjoy doing, and that’s why I do it.
For over 50 years Berryman T. “Buster" Longino has worked the Longino Ranch in Sarasota County. His hands-on approach gives him a unique perspective on the needs of his land. It allows him to be innovative in his land management techniques, 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 out over 8,000 acres in southwest Florida, the Longino property was originally purchased by Buster’s father and grandfather in 1934. Although it has diversified over the years, the family-run operation started as a turpentine business. It was in the early days of this family ownership that Buster began to develop his appreciation for the old growth forests that covered nearly half of the property.
Buster Longino: You might say forestry is my first love. Early on, I got an appreciation for the value of timber, not only to the family and to our welfare, but also to the general welfare of the public, and as the population of Florida began to increase, we began to see a little more of the value of having some forest land, not only just from production of fiber wood and pulp and that sort of thing, but from an esthetic point of view, from an air purifying point of view, from a sort of holding the world together point of view.
Buster’s appreciation for the value of forests has deep roots. After serving in World War II, he went to the University of Florida to study forestry. As the turpentine industry in Florida gave way to timber harvesting, this education became vital. It 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 Longino: And now we're nursing along a new generation of timber. However, the whole ranch is not cut at one time; it’s staggered so that there's sort of a perpetual forest here, and that’s my goal as far as forestry is to create and maintain a perpetual forest.
Although the switch from turpentine to timber was successful, Buster also recognized the need to diversify. Timber harvesting was lucrative, but it could not sustain the property. 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 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 Longino: Today the quality is getting to be more and more important in the beef industry. As a matter of fact, the whole industry is trying to improve its image, its quality; and one of the things is to breed a type of animal that will produce higher quality and grade better.
The real challenge for the Florida rancher is to develop quality beef cattle that can withstand the hot Florida summers. Buster has cross-bred his cattle with a variety of European, Africa and Asiatic breeds, to find the right combination for his Southwest Florida ranch.
Buster Longino: Everything is really local when it comes down to ‘what do you want to raise?’ It’s what’s going to do well on your place. And what does well a hundred miles from here, may not do well here.
Currently he is working with the Brahmvi, a brown Swiss hybrid known for its high-quality beef. To ensure a quality product, Buster raises his own replacement herds from which he selects only the best heifers for breeding.
Buster Longino: A few years back we needed to diversify further from cattle and timber, and so we ventured into the citrus business. Years ago when I was in school, this was not considered citrus land at all. My professor in school said you can’t grow citrus on that kind of land. Well, the big freezes of the 1980s forced the industry south, and in doing so they devised means of growing citrus on this flatwood land.
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 Conservation Service was to drain wetlands. This increased the amount of usable farmland in South Florida. When the family 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.
Buster Longino: We just put a fixed weir in the main outlet of one of these drained ponds, and so our run-off from the grove goes into this reestablished wetland where it is treated with the ponds plants that grow in this wetland, and by the time the water reaches the far end of the retention area, it's probably as pristine as any water in this part of the country.
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. Sandhill cranes are frequently found on the property. Deer, long missing from the area, now have a sizeable population on the ranch. Turkey and wild hogs are also abundant.
Jane Longino, Office Manager, Longino Ranch, Inc.: Bus is -- has always felt so strongly about the stewardship of the land. All the awards that he gets, I think, are more than deserved because he really does genuinely love the land, has a respect for it, wants to see it preserved, and to do that, you've got to become active; you've got to get in there and do something about it instead of saying, “well, I wish it would happen.”
In addition to the assistance of Jane, his wife of 46 years, Buster receives advice and encouragement from other family members who make up the board of directors of the Longino Ranch, Inc.
Buster is a member of the Florida Forestry Association, and has participated on the Florida Forestry Council. But his community service is not restricted to forestry. He also works with the Soil 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 over 12 years. He was also inducted into the Florida Cracker Hall of Fame in 1993. As a spokesperson for environmentally sound agriculture, Buster often provides educational tours of the ranch to local schools, churches, and civic organizations.
Jane Longino: He’s even head of the stewardship department in church. You know, bless his heart; he’s even carried it up there.
Buster's success is based on his willingness to do what's best in the long run. Diversification of the Longino Ranch, for example, has allowed Buster to sustain a viable agricultural operation despite the normal highs and lows of the beef, citrus, and timber industries. It's his nature to evaluate and implement new ideas and always look toward the future.
Buster Longino: There’s a term called eco-tourism that’s being pushed now and thought about a lot. But even that will probably not offset the trend of selling off more and more agricultural land into urban development. I think it's very important to have public lands that are managed for natural systems and open lands. But also I think it is very important that there be private lands that also retain some of the natural features that they've had in the past and so that future generations can enjoy the amenities that come with natural land. I want my children to be able to do it and others too.