State program helps preserve agricultural land

OKEECHOBEE — Four Okeechobee ranches earned high marks in the State Rural and Family Lands Protection Program as possible targets for easements.

Corona Ranch, Triple S Ranch, Todd Clemons Unit One and Osowaw Ranch were considered Tier 1 projects, with the highest scores.

Tier Two projects included Lykes Ranch, Ingrams Crossing in Glades, the Syfrett Ranch in Glades County, Clemons Oak Creek, Curren Dairy and Russaskis Ranch III in Okeechobee County.

Tier Three projects included the Cypress Creek Grove in Glades, the IT-E-It Ranch in Okeechobee, and the Ruff Diamond Ranch in Okeechobee.

The Rural and Family Lands Program is designed to protect what the state deems important agriculture land. It is designed to protect valuable agriculture land, ensure sustainable agriculture practices and reasonable protection of the environment without interference in agriculture operations that puts their economic viability at risk, and protects natural resources.

The program focuses on maintaining the agricultural land base in Florida.

The program recognizes that a thriving rural economy with a strong agricultural base and viable rural communities is essential to Florida’s future.

While the Okeechobee ranches got high marks, the state legislature is in control of the funding and each year the state purchases the easements on only a small fraction of the properties that apply.

On March 14, The governor and cabinet approved the preservation of 3,846 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch lands in Polk, Hardee, Martin and St. Lucie counties through the cost-effective conservation easements.

The Corona Ranch is owned by Corona Holdings, XIV, LLC and Corona Cattle Company. It measures 3,203 acres and includes 953 acres of wetlands. It also has 2,100 acres of improved pasture. It is located on Micco Bluff Road. The state team gave it a moderate score for agriculture legacy, a high score for hydrology, a high score as a cow/calf operation, a low score for habitat and wildlife resources, and a moderate score for benefit to natural resources.

Osowaw Ranch owned by Wedgworth Farms, Inc. covers 6,125 acres with land in both Okeechobee and Indian River County. The property includes 700 acres of forest and 1,930 acres of wetland. It also includes 1.5 miles of Fort Drum Creek. It received a high score for historical value. The property includes at least one wooden trestle and tram from the Florida East Coast railroad.

The Pelaez & Sons Ranch is owned by Peleaz and Sons, Inc. The property contains 1,375 acres which includes 198 acres of wetlands. It received a moderate score for agriculture legacy and a low final assessment score. It is located east of County Route 599 two miles north of State Route 70 west. It received high marks as a cow/calf operation but a low score for natural resource benefits. It was originally a tomato farm.

The Todd Clemons Unit One is owned by the Todd Clemons Family, LLC and the Matthew Todd Clemons Trust. It contains 1,922 acres and is located south of Micco Bluff Road. It includes 92 acres of wetlands and 92 acres of forest. It is a fifth generation cattle and citrus farm that has been impacted by citrus greening. The property earned high scores from the Department of Agriculture, a moderate score for agriculture legacy, a low benefit to natural resources, a moderate score from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a moderate score from South Florida Water Management for hydrological benefits.

The Triple S Ranch is owned by Alfred W. Scott and Dan C. Scott. It totals 7,503 acres that includes 1,907 acres of wetlands, 3,135 acres of improved pasture, 2,011 acres of forest, and 400 acres of wet prairie and 4,000 acres of natural areas. It is located south of Route 68 east. It earned high marks for public purposes, a moderate grade for agriculture legacy, high marks from the Department of Agriculture, a moderate score for benefit to habitat, a low score for wildlife and a high score for hydrological benefit.

The Clemons Oak Creek is owned by Clemons Oak Creek, LLC and Otis Jeffrey Clemons irrevocable trust. It measures 2,292 acres with 200 acres of wetland and 136 acres of citrus. The state Department of Agriculture gave it a moderate score for agriculture legacy, and a low score for benefit to natural resources. The FWC gave it a moderate score in its evaluation and water management gave it a moderate score for hydrological benefit.

The Curren Dairy is owned by William S. Curren. The property includes 249 acres and 10 acres of wetland. It is primarily a dairy and cow calf operation. It is located on Dark Hammock Road, three miles east of 441, south of the curve. It received low marks for public purpose, low scores for agriculture legacy, but high marks for agriculture production. The FWC report said it had no benefit to natural resources. The water management district gave it low scores for hydrological benefits.

The IT-E-IT Ranch is located less than two miles south east of the city limits.

It contains 111 acres with 80 acres of improved pasture. It is owned by James Smith and has been in the family since WW II. The state department of agriculture gave it low marks for agriculture legacy, a low score for public uses, no historical value, low scores for natural resource benefits, a moderate score for wildlife benefits from the FWC and a low score from SFWMD for hydrological benefits.

The Ruff Diamond Ranch is owned by Ruff Diamond, LLC. It covers 1,470 acres which includes 1,400 acres of native pasture and 70 acres of wetlands.

The property received low scores for public use, low scores for agriculture legacy, low benefit to natural resources, moderate scores from the FWC on benefit to habitat and wildlife and moderate score from SFWMD for water benefits.

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