Cattle are an important part of local economy

Okeechobee has once again earned the nickname “Florida’s Cow Town.” The county continues to lead the state in the number of cattle.

A study released March 6 by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture (UF/IFAS) found the top five Florida counties for beef and dairy cow inventory were Okeechobee (110,000), Highlands (75,500), Polk (60,600), Osceola (60,000) and Hardee (48,100).

“Contributions of Beef and Dairy Cattle and Allied Industries in Florida in 2017,” was written by Alan W. Hodges, Christa D. Court, Mohammad Rahmani and Caleb A. Stair.

“The state of Florida has a long and colorful history of cattle ranching,” the authors state. “Currently, there are over 5.4 million acres of improved pasture, rangeland and woodland used for beef and dairy cattle production, representing 15.6 percent of the state’s land area. As of January 2018, Florida had an inventory of 1.63 million cattle and calves, including 886,000 beef cows and 124,000 dairy cows. Production of cattle and calves in 2017, including a calf crop of 790,000 head, was valued at $502 million, and production of 2.5 billion pounds (300 million gallons) of milk was valued at $537 million. During the last Census of Agriculture in 2012, there were 18,433 beef cattle operations with inventory and 425 milk operations with inventory.”

In addition to the dairy farm and beef cattle ranch operations, wholesale and retail distribution as well as support services add to the state’s economy. According to the report, in 2017, there were 213 animal slaughtering/processing and dairy product manufacturing firms in Florida, with 5,338 employees, and paid annual wages of $224 million. Inputs and services for cattle production, including on-farm services, animal feed manufacturers and food animal veterinarians, provided an estimated 3,193 jobs in the state, while livestock, beef and dairy product wholesalers supported 4,491 jobs. Retail sales of beef and dairy products represented 16.9 percent of food store sales in Florida, valued at $6.4 billion, and accounted for 34,713 jobs. In 2017, Florida exported cattle, meat and dairy products worth over $1 billion internationally. In addition, the industries contributed $712 million in state and local government tax revenues and $1.16 billion in federal tax revenues.

Florida’s cattlemen are good stewards of the land, according to the report.

“In addition to commodity production and commercial services in the cattle and allied industries, pastures and rangelands in Florida support a variety of recreational activities for fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing,” the report explains. “Some large cattle ranches in Central and South Florida have partnered with the water management districts to provide on-farm water storage and treatment as a low-cost option to enhance water quality and reduce flooding and pollutant loading on downstream water bodies. Other non-marketed ecosystem services provided by cattle farms and ranches include provision of wildlife habitat, maintenance of biodiversity, air and water purification, carbon storage, moderation of extreme weather events, generation and preservation of soils, and control of agricultural pests. Although these ecosystem services were not explicitly quantified in this study, secondary sources were used to estimate a value of $4.605 billion annually.”

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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