The Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District Spring Farm Tour brought over eighty participants in two charter buses to several agricultural operations in the Manatee County. Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District board members Buddy Keen, Ben King, and Julie Tillett served as tour guides along with county and UF/IFAS Extension staff. Points of interest, historic, and anecdotal information was shared on the buses while enroute to the tour stops. After a two year hiatus, it was great to be on the road again!
Taylor Cattle & Citrus
Originally purchased as a 40 acre parcel in 1887, five generations of the family have now owned and operated Taylor Cattle & Citrus which presently encompasses approximately 520 acres of grazed improved and native range and 65 acres of citrus production. The commercial beef cow/calf operation consists primarily of crossbred cattle containing Angus, Brangus, and Charolais. The breeding program runs January through June producing calves from October through March. The calf crop is placed for sale through a video auction and shipped in August to numerous southeast states and as far as Texas. The Taylor Ranch citrus production is the Valencia hybrid, named after Valencia, Spain and is the most popular juice orange in the United States. Harvested between mid-March and mid-June, average production is approximately 16,000 boxes that produce 96,000 gallons of orange juice.
Owner Hugh Taylor and his daughter Amanda Taylor discussed the cattle and citrus operation with tour attendees while they were standing at the edge of the grove, the sweet scent of the citrus blossoms was in the air.
Our next stop was Watercress Farms, a 500 acre farm in Manatee County. Watercress is a small, peppery tasting salad green grown in artificial rivers on every continent other than Antarctica. Most of the Watercress Farms crop is shipped back to England. The company is building sales in the USA through a partnership with Solata Foods under the brand of Solatacress. This exciting development has led to a farm opening in Kentucky, supplying a year-round crop to the US market – keep an eye out for watercress at your local supermarket!
Watercress is a temperate-climate plant and is not really suited for Florida; however, our warm, dry winters and high light levels make it a good choice for winter production (October through June). In an average season, about 500 tons of product are shipped back to London. Just seventy-two hours after harvest in Myakka City, it is on the tables in England! Research has shown watercress to be highly nutritious, containing many beneficial phytochemicals which may reduce the risk of certain cancers. For this reason, it is recognized as a “Super Food”. In fact, watercress was historically used by the Egyptians who recognized its healthy properties, making it one of the oldest recorded crops farmed by mankind. Please visit www.watercressfarms.com for more information.
Manager Guy Averill and staff described watercress production and product details to our attendees. Buses drove through the farm to allow participants to get an overview and at the edge of one field participants disembarked to get a closer look at the crop. As we left the farm, several boxes of watercress were loaded on the buses for attendees to take home to sample at the end of our tour.
Mike Galinski purchased the ranch from the R.E. Mason Estate in 2014. Galinski and managing partner Jim Strickland knew Blackbeard’s Ranch was a special place; they had a vision for the dry prairies, maiden-cane marshes, live oak hammocks, cabbage islands, and longleaf pine savannas on the land, as this diverse landscape would make an ideal cattle ranch. The headwaters of Deer Prairie Slough and adjoining wetlands are now a permanent conservation area, storing and cleaning water for people downstream. A 1,700 acre conservation easement has been established, preserving and rehydrating the land. The ranch has received many environmental awards including the National Environmental Stewardship Award. Blackbeard’s Ranch has a land stewardship ethic that guides land management, ensuring high quality wildlife habitat while running a productive cattle operation. Blackbeard’s Ranch has also diversified into developing lines of other delicious products fresh from the ranch, such as poultry and honey. Please visit www.blackbeardsranch.com for more information.
Lunch was held in the Seminole style chickee at ranch headquarters, where all buildings reflect the Florida cracker style architecture. Lunch was sponsored by the Mosaic Company. During lunch Strickland provided an overview of the ranch and conservation easement details. Crystal Snodgrass, County Extension Director, discussed extension programs in Manatee County. A handful of tour attendees received a small sample jar of Blackbeard’s Ranch honey after finding ‘gold’ coins. A whip cracking demonstration took place.
Jones Potato Farm
Owner Alan Jones, a 2nd generation Florida farmer, was one of the pioneers of the SW Florida Farm to School Program. Two thousand acres of potatoes are grown from February through May. Jones Potato Farm was awarded a Grower Achievement Award in 2017 by American Vegetable Grower. This national award is given annually to an operation that exemplifies the best of the national growing community. Jones Potato Farm is a leader in sustaining the environment that provides for their way of living. Potato varieties include Atlantic, Red La Soda, Yukon Gold, Purple Majesty, Russian, Banana, and French Fingerlings. The potatoes produced are either developed into potato chips or marketed through various grocers. Potatoes are available February through May. Jones Potato Farm also grows about 700 acres of green beans in November, December, April, and May. Through the use of a grid system and GPS band fertilizer spreader, Jones has reduced his fertilizer use by 30 percent. Low volume electric pivot irrigation systems reduce water use by nearly 50 percent. Visit http://jonespotatofarm.com/ or find them on Facebook and Instagram for more information.
On the tour, Jones led the group through potato packing house while describing his operation. The robotic stackers were a hit with tour attendees, this equipment moves and packages potatoes for retail. There was a flurry of robotic and human activity to observe. Participants passed through a large walk in cold room with potatoes stored in large bags.
The Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District hosts the farm tour each spring to increase the awareness of agricultural operations within the county.
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