Agriculture diversity: Spotlight on Florida

Agricultural production methods vary from state to state. Take a closer look at Florida agriculture without leaving the Midwest.

Cattle are the largest agricultural commodity in Osceola County, Florida.

Cattle are the largest agricultural commodity in Osceola County, Florida.

Agricultural production methods around the world are very diverse and comprise many different technologies, but what we sometimes fail to recall is how innovative and exciting agricultural practices are across the United States. Whether a 4-H project or the largest ranch in the United States, there are similarities and differences in production practices. Michigan State University Extension offers a glimpse into agriculture throughout the United States in this new article series. To start the parade of states, we begin with the “Sunshine State,” Florida.

Theme parks such as Walt Disney World may be the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Florida. These parks are known to be the most magical place on earth, but just a short drive away you’ll be able to see something equally as enchanting: production agriculture. Central Florida, specifically Osceola County, is home to three large commodities: cattle, sod and citrus. This article will look more closely at the cattle part of Florida agriculture, including pasture management, water use, beef production and 4-H.

Pasture management

Especially during severe winter weather, those from the Midwest appreciate visiting warmer climates such as those found in Florida. Even in January there is still green grass available for animal utilization. With the potential for year-round grazing, Florida farmers use research-based advancements and are able to implement intensive pasture maintenance and pasture improvement techniques. For example, bahiagrass, hemarthria, bermudagrass and rye as well as legumes are grown in pastures year round. Grass types and management methods, such as controlled burns, allow animals access to vital nutrients all year. Interesting to note, most Florida grasses, when tested, would have a lower nutrient content than usually observed in Midwest forages.

Water use

Like Michigan, Florida farmers are charged with the responsibility to be good stewards of the land and managing our natural resources, particularly water. Florida residents do not have the same access to fresh water like we are blessed with in the Midwest, thus Florida is very careful about water use. In fact, water is actually owned by the state and highly regulated. Once permitted, farmers are then able to withdraw water based on their submitted allowance. Since water use is closely regulated, Florida farmers and ranchers continue to utilize management strategies to reduce the amount of water needed, as well as educate the general public about how they are using this valuable resource.

Beef production

If it was your first visit to Florida, you may be surprised to know there are more than one million head of cattle in Florida, especially since the state is famous for its citrus crops. Specifically, Osceola County ranks number one in the state for beef cattle production. One of the ranches in this county is Deseret. Deseret has 295,000 acres and ranks first in cow-calf operators in the nation. The ranch consists of approximately 42,500 cows with a single cowboy managing about 1,200 head. The cattle-to-manager numbers are astronomically higher, meaning there are more people working a smaller number of animals in the Midwest.

In addition to featuring large herds, Florida cattle often rely on “crossbreeding,” or mixing two or more breeds, to help cattle endure the heat, humidity and insects. In areas such as Florida, animals need to have a tolerance to heat and resistance to insects in order to thrive. Brahman cattle, the first beef breed developed in the United States, are often utilized because of their hybrid vigor and heat tolerance.

Florida 4-H

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is home to Florida Extension and 4-H. The highest priorities of Florida 4-H are identified by gathering input from residents across the state and include Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), healthy lifestyles and citizenship and leadership. The top five project areas consist of communications and expressive arts, animals, biological sciences, environmental sciences and plant science.

According to 2014-2015 data compiled by Florida 4-H Youth Development, there are over 204,000 youth ages 5-18 completing more than 28,600 youth experiences in animal projects. This compares to Michigan with over 181,000 youth in 58,800 animal science youth experiences.

This is only a small snapshot of Florida agriculture. For more information about Florida agriculture, visit the University of Florida Extension website or plan a trip to the Sunshine State to witness it firsthand.

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