#ValortakesFL was the latest hashtag reference describing our most recent excursion. This session landed us in sunny central Florida. Here we were emersed in local agricultural, political, and ecological life. A few things are well known about Florida; it’s hot, it’s humid, it’s a popular desitination of the grey nomads, The Villages (key annoying jingle of luxuerious retirement living), citrus, aligators (much to the excitement of Cliff), your source of wintertime fresh produce, etc. What is not so well known to those from outside the state is the significance of water; cattle production; citrus greening; and how it was Florida who was really the last frontier settled, not the west.
If you did a word association with most people about Florida, I am sure you would hear something about citrus – whether oranges, orange juice, or grapefruits. I’m hoping most know that oranges come from trees; that a citrus farmer grows (not the grocery store). Most are probably unaware of the struggles that these farmers face, though. Just like us humans, bacteria can make trees sick. Citrus Greening is a devasting disease to the Florida citrus industry. Spread by a tiny psyllid, smaller than the tip of a pin, citrus greening is having huge ramifications to generation old citrus operations. With no cure, farmers must follow a strict tree health mangement plan, but the outcome is pretty much inevitable. Citrus Greening is not native to Florida. This is why it is so imperative that we obey the quarantine restrictions when traveling outside our country. What could seem like an innoscent little gift or trinket from a foreign land can have long lasting, devistating effects to many people growing crops or livestock susceptible to foreign disease and/or pest.
I am pretty sure that cattle production and crackers (Florida’s term for cowboys deriving from the cracking sound of a whip used by cowboys while on horseback driving cattle) would not be top of a Florida word association. Florida is America’s oldest cattle producing state – introduced by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leonin the 1500’s. Florida currently ranks 9th in total number of cows in the U.S. with over 1 million head of cattle, and it accounted for nearly $500 million in gross sales in 2013. Florida cattle production is centered around cow/calf production, and shipping cattle to Texas for finishing. Florida cattle have to be tough, though. The grass is poor, heat is constant, and preditation and parasites are a constant threat. This is why you see the long eared, Brahma influence
We visited Lykes Bros. cattle ranch. Lykes Bros. grazes over 12,000 cows over 170,000 acres (yes those numbers are correct). That acreage spreads over two counties, and around a lot of alligator infested waters. The amazing things is this isn’t even the largest cattle producer in the state. Lykes Bros employees over 15o crakers who work the cattle on horseback and with cattle dogs. With cattle in a populated area comes alot of fencing, too. I can only imagine the mangement it must take to overrsee that many cattle and that many miles of fencing.
With talk of cowboys and cattle, you probably have images of the wild west being settled and wars with Native Americans. You probably would not think that it was just over 150 years ago that much of Florida was uninhabited – it was a swamp. It was in the mid-1800’s that the federal government sought to drain much of the unusable land we know today as South Florida. It was during this time that we were looking for more and more productive farm land. This time was also frequented with skirmishes with Native Americans who inhabited the swamp lands. Florida was truly the last frontier of the U.S.
A view of the “sweeter” part of the trip…U.S. Sugar
Traveling around Central Florida was a nice journey in to a lesser known area of Florida. Just like anywhere, Florida farmers face their own unique challenges that can only be really understood by those native to the area. Florida has done a good job understanding the challenges they face, and continually pursuing the answers to those challengs. Despite all the development in the past 60 years, Florida’s lands are still not even remotely close to tame. This development has inevitably altered the ecosystem and hydrology of the area. Experience tells me that nothing is permanent in nature, though, and given time, nature will take it back eventually.