Title: Florida Cattlemen: Setting the Pace
Ranchers. Cattlemen. Cowboys. Call them what you may. They might look like remnants of the past, but they are an important link to Florida’s future. Today’s ranchers are businessmen, computer operators, bio‑engineers and environmentalists. They combine old traditions with modern technology, constantly searching for new ways to improve this dynamic and progressive business, while preserving the land for future generations. Producing leaner beef, protecting the environment and bringing more than $1 billion to the state’s economy each year, Florida’s cattlemen are setting the pace in America’s beef industry.
For generations Florida’s ranching families have served as responsible stewards of the land, protecting our state’s precious natural resources. They maintain and improve 7 million acres of pasture and grazing land across the state. Taking a “whole farm” approach, today’s ranchers understand that cattle are only part of the entire ranch system. Water and soil conservation, nutrient management and wildfire prevention play equally important roles in the health of the rangelands providing a healthy habitat not only for their cattle, but for the state’s wildlife as well.
Deer, rabbits and birds, as well as many endangered and threatened species of plants and animals, benefit from the work of Florida’s cattlemen. But the state’s green space for wildlife, agriculture, and people is becoming scarce. Lands once used to grow crops and livestock now sit below layers of asphalt and concrete. The remaining land is under constant threat of development. In fact, the only open spaces left in the state for groundwater recharge are rangelands maintained by ranchers.
Cattle have been a part of the Florida landscape for nearly 500 years. Unlike the Spanish explorers who introduced the herds to the New World, today’s Florida cattlemen are constantly improving the relationship between ranching and the environment. At the MacArthur Agro‑Ecology research station, ranchers work with scientists to determine the best stocking rate, or number of cows per acre, to help ranchers utilize the remaining rangeland in ways that benefit to the herd, the land, and the aquifer.
Innovation and research, like that at MacArthur Agro‑Ecology research station is nothing new to Florida’s ranchers. During the 1940s and 50s, cattlemen here revolutionized the industry by introducing the Brahman breed to their herds. This Asian livestock helped domestic cattle become genetically more resistant to heat and disease. Today's ranchers are looking for more than just climate‑tolerant cows.
The goal now is to produce leaner, faster growing, more productive beef cattle ‑‑ and new technology plays a key role. Ultrasound, for instance, gives ranchers a detailed picture of a cow’s muscle-to-fat ratio. This helps determine which specific cows to breed for a leaner, healthier, and more delicious piece of beef.
Computers are used to formulate feed and essential minerals specific to the needs of the herd, and also to keep extensive records on each cow to monitor its health, nutrition, and breeding potential.
Florida is a predominantly cow/calf production state. Using the Internet and live video, Florida ranchers sell 3/4 of a million weaned calves annually to feed lots or ranches in other states, where they are grown until ready for market. Some ranchers use the Internet to track the progress of their calves long after they leave the state. By tracking the results, ranchers can determine which cattle have the optimal traits for breeding.
For each head sold, cattlemen deduct $1 for use in education, beef promotion, and research for product enhancement. This effort, known as the Beef Check‑Off Program, allows cattlemen to search for new ways to continually improve their industry.
Through the check‑off program, scientists around the country, including those here at the University of Florida, are not only expanding traditional cuts, like filets and ribeyes, they are also developing Beef Value Cuts -- new, flavorful, tender cuts of meat better suited for today’s healthy lifestyle.
Beef has always been a great source of zinc, iron, and protein. But thanks to the efforts of Florida cattlemen, there's also less fat and more lean meat. In fact, today’s beef is a nutrient- dense food that fits into the diets set by major health organizations. Groups like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recognize beef as a delicious part of a heart‑healthy meal.
While steaks and other beef dishes continue to be popular selections on restaurant menus, pre‑cooked products in the market place make beef dishes easier to prepare at home.
They offer convenience at a very affordable price -- perfect for today’s busy families.
Florida's cattlemen are at the forefront of America’s beef industry. They strive to find new ways to raise healthier, leaner cattle ‑‑ merging modern techniques with old family traditions. As responsible stewards of the land, they keep Florida's green spaces open for future generations to enjoy. And they understand the importance of putting safe and wholesome food on America's dinning tables.