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Florida cattle in pasture

Ecosystem Services: What Florida Ranches can Offer Beyond a Burger!

Many people think of Florida and see our coastal communities, Mickey Mouse, sprawling urban development, and an almost “care-free or vacation” lifestyle to accompany it. While urbanization and economic development are vital to any economy, there is much beyond the beaches. Interior Florida, with rural roots is what our state was founded on and the key to sustainability long-term. Bridging the gap between the urban and rural populations and their lifestyles will be imperative for Florida moving into a future of 22 million people, with no evidence of population decline.

Shedding light on this idea of interior Florida providing more than one stop light towns is key to maintaining the livelihood of our agriculture industries. These industries are the backbone of our lives, used each day by all citizens, yet wildly underrated and misrepresented on many platforms. It is time we all do our part in recognizing the efforts of Florida’s agriculturalists and the benefits of their industries.

While the importance of agriculture is certainly food and fiber production, there are many other aspects of life that are dependent on agriculture and the land it occupies such as; the byproducts generated from livestock production, our ability to maintain wildlife populations, air and water quality, carbon sequestration, and cultural services such as hunting, fishing,  or bird watching- the list goes on. If you woke up this morning to brush your teeth, apply make-up, feed your dog a bone on the way out, require insulin, or perhaps even put some antifreeze in your car before starting your day you relied on byproducts from cattle produced on our Florida ranches.

Ecosystem services is a concept not discussed enough and can really help to bridge the urban-rural gap as discussed earlier because this concept is the common ground for both interests. Without a thriving ecosystem we all suffer. Without clean water, pure air, nutrient cycling, food production, and other outputs/conditions all social welfare would suffer. Ecosystem services benefit all populations either directly or indirectly, and sometimes putting a dollar value on these services is difficult because quite frankly the benefits to society are priceless. Ecosystem services has been and will continue to be a research priority for many institutions and as we continue to build our understanding of the value of ecosystem services the sharing of that information will be important, economics is a universal language.

Let’s look at beef cattle production for a second. Beyond the obvious output of Florida ranches which is animal protein and byproducts, there are several other services going on behind the scenes. Many Florida ranches are partnering with Water Management Districts to provide on-farm water storage and treatment, which is a cost-effective strategy to reduce flooding and pollutant loading in water bodies downstream. Wildlife depend on these ranches to carry out their annual migrations and to dwell in their native habitats. Additionally, Florida ranch lands provide open spaces for nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and crop pollination to occur. Think for a moment how we would provide these services without interior Florida. At what cost economically and environmentally?

On the nearly 5 million acres of managed ranch land in Florida a $442.2 million gross revenue is generated, the value of assets associated with these ranches is nearly $20.5 billion, and the proposed value of ecosystem services of these lands being roughly $85 per acre or $22.8 million in total. That $85 per acre are services that are related to provisioning, regulation of climate and disease, nutrient cycling, or cultural services. The factsheet with this information can be further explored here: https://www.beefresearch.org/CMDocs/BeefResearch/Sustainability_FactSheet_TopicBriefs/EconomicValue/FloridaFinal.pdf

The next time you are enjoying a juicy, perfect hamburger recount the many personal luxuries and necessities as well as the societal benefits from that same animal providing the burger. How impressive are Florida ranchers to provide so much for society at often marginal economic return and little thanks? Be sure to thank a farmer, and continue to spread the positive, science-based truth about Florida agriculture.