Title: 1999 Ag-Environmental: Lykes Brothers, Inc.
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Passing beneath the canopy of cypress branches and palm fronds, the gentle waters of Fisheating Creek slowly wind their way toward Lake Okeechobee. It's easy to forget that this creek is running through the heart of one of the largest agricultural operations in Florida -- a reflection of how well nature and agriculture have come together on the Lykes Bros. Ranch.
The Lykes Bros. story began over 100 years ago with Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes. Leaving a career in medicine, Dr. Lykes began raising cattle and citrus at the family homestead in rural Hernando County. By the turn of the century, Dr. Lykes had moved his family and business to Tampa and began shipping cattle to Cuba aboard a three-masted wooden schooner. One by one, each of Dr. Lykes's seven sons joined the family business. Working together they expanded and diversified, incorporating their business "Lykes Bros. Inc." in 1910. Descendants of Dr. Lykes have retained ownership of Lykes Bros. and continue to build on the solid foundation laid by the doctor and his seven sons.
The tradition of excellence continues today and is referred to by employees throughout the operation as the "Lykes Way" of doing things.
The Lykes Bros. Ranch, located in Highlands and Glades counties, spreads out over 350,000 acres on one of the largest contiguous pieces of land in the state. While most of the property is home to an integrated cow-calf, forestry, sugar cane and citrus operation, one quarter of the ranch is wetlands. The ranch is a tapestry of farmland, pine forests and pastures, woven together with a thousand miles of canals, retention ponds, and wildlife corridors.
Since the property covers many different land types, Lykes employs multiple land practices to make the most efficient and economical use of the land. Higher income crops like sugar cane and citrus are planted on the richest soils, while the pine stands and grazing pastures comprise the rest.
With over 22,000 head of cattle, the Lykes Bros. Ranch is the fifth-largest cow-calf operation in the U.S. Employee training plays a key role in Lykes Bros. pursuit of quality. All supervisors and foremen attend pasture and forest management school, and the ranch's cowboys are trained in everything from cattle genetics to nutrition at reproductive management school. Lykes Bros.'s Beef Quality Assurance Program is a written and mapped documentation of all treatments administered to each calf, including vaccines, de-worming, pharmaceuticals, castration and de-horning. The employee who administered each treatment is documented as well. This assurance to the buyer details exactly what was done to the cattle prior to purchase, saving the buyer the time and expense of unnecessary re-treatment.
Mike Milicevic, General Manager, Cattle Operations: At Lykes Brothers we pretty much go above and beyond whatever the rules and regulations are. It makes me sleep better at night knowing that we're way ahead of the curve instead of at the curve. And I think management wise we pretty much adopted that company-wide.
The presence of cattle on native ranges continues to play an important role in the ecosystem. Through grazing, the herd helps keep brush and fuel loads down, reducing the risk of devastating wildfires.
Lykes takes special care when converting native range land into improved pastures. Aerial photographs of the property are used to select those lands best suited for improvement, and which, like wetlands, should remain untouched. Information gathered from the photos, including soil type, terrain, and flooding capability are used to compile a comprehensive map of the property from which improved pastures are carefully designed and cultivated. Seeded with nutritious grasses and legumes, these improved pastures can feed up to six times as many cattle.
Wetlands are separated from the improved pastures by "signature strips," 50- foot buffer zones of upland vegetation that absorb the nutrients that wash off the pastures. They also provide a wildlife corridor with access to the wetlands.
Mike Milicevic: The wildlife utilize those areas heavily because it’s usually a little cooler around the wetlands. They've got water close by and some good vegetation around there, and it’s a place for them to shade or nooning so to speak; in the heat of the day they’ve got vegetation there.
To help the pastures remain healthy, Lykes applies a number of management practices. Rotational grazing, for example, moves the cattle from pasture to pasture to prevent over-grazing. The ranch also encourages the multiple land-use concept of letting cattle also graze its forested areas. This integration has several benefits for the ranch.
Jim Bryan, Manager, Forestry Operations: One is it reduces the fire hazards in our young plantations where we can't burn. We get a fire reduction of the foliage and fuel in there. The cattlemen get good grazing out of it. And also in those same areas we lease out for hunting. So we're getting three different sources of revenue from that one area and it seems to work out real well. They all have an additive effect to that parcel of land.
High intensity management on these lands allows for conservation activities on the other acreage. The success of this practice can be seen in its diverse wildlife. Game animals like deer, quail, and turkey populate much of the property. Managing for wildlife has also benefited a number of endangered and threatened species. For instance, old stands of pine are actively managed so that the many Red Cockaded Woodpecker clusters found throughout the ranch are left undisturbed.
Charlie Lykes, Executive Vice President, Southern Operating Division:
Almost any species of wildlife that you find, that you can find in Florida can be found here on this ranch. They don't just live here, they thrive along with the cattle and the crops and the forestry. When we provide for the cattle we also provide for the wildlife. The cattle benefit from clean water, abundant forage and good natural shelter and the wildlife does also.
Lykes Bros. manages the largest pine forest in South Florida. To increase the quality of its timber, Lykes continually works with researchers on a variety of projects. In a cooperative effort with the University of Florida, Lykes forestry has developed a Caribbean and Florida Slash pine hybrid that allows 30 percent better growth.
The forestry operation also works with the University of Florida on its Eucalyptus groves. Eucalyptus, which grows nearly twice as fast as native pine, is harvested for mulch. It's color and aroma make it a favorite in xeriscaping, a popular low-maintenance landscaping technique. In the last decade, Lykes has planted 32 million seedlings, making it the largest grove of Eucalyptus east of the Mississippi. By continually breeding cold tolerance into the trees, Lykes and its research partners are improving a strain of eucalyptus whose seeds are collected and shipped all over the world.
Partnerships with researchers and professional associations are a major part of Lykes’ management philosophy. All of the ranch's managers participate in outside organizations, sharing ideas and knowledge to improve Florida's agricultural community. The youth of Florida benefit from a number of Lykes Bros. programs. Steers are donated to the Florida State Fair for kids to purchase and raise for competitions. Eighteen agricultural scholarships are awarded to promising students. Lykes also forms partnerships with researchers, opening its ranch to studies of rare birds, like the Caracara and the Swallow-Tail Kite.
Charlie Lykes: Most of the Swallow Tail Kites in the United States come to this exact same spot every summer to get ready to go to South America for their annual migration. It’s really a beautiful thing to see. One of the most important and significant partnerships we have going right now is with the State of Florida. We've owned all the land around Fish Eating Creek for about sixty years and the state wants to see that land continue to be protected. So what we've agreed to do is sell them a wide swath of land that includes the swampland on both sides of Fish Eating Creek. And then to protect that water shed, we've agreed to sell them a conservation easement on another 42,000 acres on both sides of that land that the state’s going to own.
Lykes Bros. has 22,000 aces of citrus trees throughout central Florida. While the various groves stretch from Indian River to Lake Placid, all the young trees come from Lykes' Boat Ramp Nursery near Lorida, Florida.
Bill Barber, Vice President and General Manager, Citrus Management Division: We grow all of our own stock for replants in our groves and any new groves that we might plant. We start from the seed; we have our own seed sources. We also have source material for the varieties that we grow and we grow those in our nursery. Then we move those plants out into our grove areas. Depending on soil types and the environment that they're going into, we place the correct variety and root stock in the correct soil type and area.
In conjunction with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, Lykes is experimenting with a variety of root stocks to determine which plant can thrive in a particular environment. This research is shared with citrus farmers throughout state.
Advances in technology have allowed Lykes to get the most out of its groves. Utilizing on-site weather stations, in conjunction with moisture sensors, Lykes can determine when the current conditions are right for irrigation management. Using the Certec low-volume grove sprayers to apply pesticides, the operator can focus the treatment directly at the tree. This not only reduces the application used by twenty-five percent, it diminishes the amount of pesticide runoff from the groves. Four yearly applications of fertilizer have decreased nutrient runoff.
Water use is closely monitored in the groves. If local rainfalls are not adequate, a low-volume drip irrigation system is employed. Turbine pumps bring ground water for the irrigation system from production wells located on the property.
The groves were designed to maximize the use of gravity for water control. Excess surface water runs off through furrows between the citrus tree beds, flowing down a system of canals into water retention ponds. A series of fixed weirs helps filter the water before it leaves the property, usually exceeding the state's water quality standards.
The Lykes Bros. philosophy of striving for excellence is evident when it comes to meeting government regulations.
Sarah Childs, Environmental Coordinator: One of the things that’s so amazing is that there are so many rules and regulations that it would require a company as Lykes to hire someone to do strictly environmental compliance and regulatory work. Rules and regulations are required for every aspect of our organization. And one of the things that we have to do is make sure that everything is disseminated to each and every supervisor and manager. We found that the easiest way to do that is to have one person over that job so that we can disseminate that information in a timely manner.
From maintaining a safe work place to inspecting double-wall fuel containment systems, Lykes’ environmental coordinator ensures that the company’s operations throughout the state meet or exceed farming regulations.
Lykes Bros. has been in the sugar cane business since before World War I, when it operated a sugar cane plantation in Cuba. After losing the plantation in the 1960s following Castro's revolution, Lykes consolidated its sugar cane operation in Florida. Today Lykes' grows about 4,000 acres of sugar cane each year.
The state's sandy soil makes water management very important. Over the years Lykes has developed a series of canals and weirs in which water is staged down through the farm. The water is then pumped back to the head of the system by recycling pumps.
Crate P. "Happy" Tucker, Manager, Sugar Cane Division: We're really working to stay ahead of it in every way that we can. I'd say that the biggest example would be recycling; another one would be making sure that the wetlands are kept in their natural state where they are; and trying to make sure that we're using nutrients in a quantity that will be taken up mostly by the plants.
Fertilizer applications are spread out over the cane's twelve month growing season. This reduces the amount of fertilizer required while achieving the same amount of plant growth. Scouting for pests, like the Sugar Cane Bore, lets the farm determine if and when pesticides are needed. In an effort to constantly improve quality, Lykes has invited IFAS to research different varieties of cane on its farm to develop more productive crops. The results of these tests will be shared with sugar cane growers throughout the state.
Partnership ... forming a bond and working together for a shared goal. It's the keystone of the Lykes Bros. philosophy.
Partnership that unifies the corporate divisions of a large and diverse enterprise; that allows management and employees to forge a relationship more resembling an extending family.
Partnership that promotes research and the sharing of knowledge so that others may benefit, and serves the community by giving something back.
And, through stewardship of the land, partnership that allows man and nature to co-exist in harmony.