Florida's Cattle Industry

From the Florida Cattlemen’s Association

As the National Renderers Association meets this month in glamorous Miami/South Beach, FL, it may not be apparent that the “Sunshine State” has a wealth of cattle history. According to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association (FCA), Spaniard Ponce de Leon brought horses and cattle to the mostly wide, green lands of Florida in 1521, making it the oldest cattle-raising state in the United States. No other part of the country had cattle until the Pilgrims brought cattle in the early 1600s.

The early cattle-raising days were rough for Spanish settlers. The St. Augustine missionaries who raised beef also fought Indian raids and mosquitoes. Despite the storms, swamps, snakes, and cattle fever ticks before the year 1700, there were already dozens of ranches along the Panhandle and St. Johns River.

Most Florida settlers of the 1800s raised beef for food. Also about this time, railroads reached central Florida and changed everything. Because trains could ship cattle, the beef industry grew. New towns sprang up around the ranches, and more people arrived from other states. There was work for blacksmiths, shopkeepers, and cowboys in these settlements. By the Civil War, Confederate soldiers were depending on Florida cattle for meat, hides, and tallow.

Florida’s true roots took hold in agriculture. Today, agriculture is still one of its biggest businesses with Florida’s ranchers raising the third largest number of cattle of any state east of the Mississippi River. The state’s cattle industry is one of the 15 largest in the United States. Centered around birthing and raising calves without much of the concerns that come with the beef processing part of the system, Florida’s cattlemen are dedicated to the preservation of Florida’s green ranch land, and significantly support Florida’s interstate economy, providing jobs as well as beef.

Additionally, Florida’s cattlemen have been strong supporters of Florida’s youth and culture. From county fair displays to scholarship contests, Florida’s cattlemen have worked
diligently to give back to
the communities they

However, as Florida continues to urbanize, real estate developers are quickly obtaining what is left of Florida’s pristine ranch land. In an industry with very low profit margins, it is often difficult for a family rancher to give up the chance at millions of dollars for the sale of their land. Thus, Florida’s cattle ranchers are quickly losing their place in the state’s landscape.

Florida was originally a farm-rich state, but with continued migration and development, it is becoming more and more of an urbanized region with each passing year. In relation, the impact of Florida’s cattle ranchers on the state’s environment and economy is not understood by many of its citizens. These citizens are not necessarily against the cattlemen’s aims but are likely to maintain a neutral stance because they are unaware of the benefits of cattlemen to the state of Florida.

Today the FCA membership collaborates in order to create a greater understanding of the state’s diverse agriculture among Florida residents. Activities and county events are organized in the hopes of uncovering the often-overlooked fact that rural and urban Florida are interconnected and interdependent.

Florida Beef Cattle Facts
• One Florida ranch owns the largest brood cow herd in the United States.
• Florida is home to four of the United States’ 10 largest cow-calf operations.
• Florida ranks 12th in the nation in number of beef cows.
• Nearly one-half of all Florida agricultural land is involved in cattle production. Florida has four million acres of pastureland and one million acres of grazed woodland.
• Much of “Natural Florida” remains in the working landscape of Florida’s cattle industry.

October 2007 RENDER | back