For the past several years the Florida Cattlemen’s Association leadership has encouraged their membership to promote the industry and how it affects their life. Some of the campaigns have been “Tell Your Story”, “Find a Way” and “Show Your Passion”. Many members have joined the movement to share the good things the Beef Industry does for the community and environment. Even though we take these things for granted, it does make a difference in the segment of the community that is removed from production agriculture.
While statistics have always been available to the general public, the last year many different publications were developed to help producers promote the industry that they love. Infographics and factsheets were developed for the cattlemen and cattlemen who attended “Boots on the Hill” in Tallahassee. This information was also used in Washington D.C. when lobbying for industry support.
Most people who reside in the state of Florida, especially in coastal areas, are not aware that Florida has a robust commercial livestock industry. The livestock industry encompasses 5.4 million acres of pasture and rangeland statewide with 18,433 beef cattle operations and 425 dairy cattle operations taking up most of these acres. In economic terms this turns into $502 million value of cattle produced and 300 million gallons of milk produced that are worth $537 million.
The beef cattle industry contributes to the economy through employee wages, salaries, and benefits. Currently we contribute approximately $4.64 billion to the state’s economy through wages, salaries and benefits. In the counties of Lafayette, Okeechobee, Gilchrist, Madison and Hardee contribute 10% plus to the local economy from the cattle industry. Some of the jobs that contribute to the economy are directly related to beef cattle production, meat processing, dairy farming, dairy product manufacturing, product wholesalers, retail sales of beef and dairy products, and allied services.
While contributions to the economy are important for counties and the state, the Florida beef cattle industry is so much more. As an industry 231 million pounds of beef are produced per year, providing 334 million meals to the public. Not only are we feeding the world’s residents, we are also able to create other items used in everyday life. Some of these things are cosmetics, crayons, bandages, leather goods, insulin, heparin, and vitamin B12.
The industry also preserves natural resources. In urban areas natural resources are taken down to make way for progress. “Progress” is traditionally defined in urban areas as houses, roadways, retail outlets, and restaurants to name a few. In order to allow this “progress” to take place, open rangelands and areas are needed. Pastures and rangelands provide support for sensitive and unique ecosystems that provide homes for native and endangered plants such as bald cypress trees and sabal palms. The areas also provide protection and resources for wildlife species. Ranches in central and south Florida have partnered with Water Management Districts to hold water in an effort to enhance water quality.
Well managed cattle ranches work together with natural resources to provide a safe, natural environment for wildlife and the public. The dollar value of such ecosystems is estimated at $4.6 billion annually. Cattle producers are also lowering their carbon footprint by 16% and fewer natural resources are required for every pound of beef produced. Land is also being preserved through conservation easement agreements and assisting public land managers through grazing leases.
To preserve the natural resource areas, cattle producers enroll in Best Management Practices (BMP’s). These BMP’S are developed through cooperative efforts of cattlemen along with local and state governmental agencies. Currently over 5 million acres of Florida agriculture land is enrolled in BMP’s. Some of these enrollments are mandated and some are in voluntary enrollment areas. Some things included in BMP’s are maintaining vegetative coverage in pastures, planning of temporary holding areas, minimizing offsite water discharges, and minimizing pollution just to name a few.
As you can see there is a lot that Florida cattle producers can be proud of. It is everyone’s job to educate and advocate for our industry. If you don’t “Tell Your Story” or “Show Your Passion” nobody else will. With the rate of development in the state, agriculture lands, pasture lands, and natural areas will continue to disappear. Now is the time to educate the public that Florida DOES have a cattle industry that is 1.68 million animals strong. The Florida cattle industry is more than just cows in a pasture, it’s so much more.