Certain stretches of Florida interstate are lined with miles and miles of cows grazing on green, palm tree filled pastures. But what are all those cows used for? Are those the cows we eat or cows that produce milk?
UF/IFAS’s Todd Thrift and cattle rancher Jim Strickland join us to discuss Florida’s cow-calf industry (we’re the 10th largest in the nation for production) and share what Florida ranching is really like.
Florida Ag & Food System Fast Facts 2021
To learn more about UF/IFAS and how food IS our middle name, visit: ifas.ufl.edu/food/
Tory Moore [00:00:03]
So, welcome to the Food is Our Middle Name podcast. I'm your host, Tory Moore. And today we'll ask two cattlemen what the deal is with those cow pastures you see as you're driving across Florida.
So, today we'll have Dr. Todd Thrift who’s a UF IFAS beef cattle specialist, and Jim Strickland, owner of Stricklin Ranch and past president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association. So first, I want to give a warm welcome to Todd and Jim, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
On the podcast, we have a little bit of a game that we play to kick off each episode. So, Todd, I'm going to sign you up for this one, okay?
Todd Thrift [00:00:38]
That’d be fine.
Tory Moore [00:00:39]
Aright, so I'm going to ask you a quick rapid fire series of fun food questions, and you'll have 15 seconds to answer as many questions as you can. And then once we're done with that, we'll get right on into our interview. Are you ready?
Todd Thrift [00:00:52]
Tory Moore [00:00:53]
Okay, so here we go. What is your favorite food?
Todd Thrift [00:00:58]
Tory Moore [00:00:59]
Coffee or tea?
Todd Thrift [00:01:00]
Tory Moore [00:01:02]
Food you hate?
Todd Thrift [00:01:04]
Tory Moore [00:01:05]
Oh, sweet or spicy?
Todd Thrift [00:01:07]
Tory Moore [00:01:08]
Favorite meal of the day?
Todd Thrift [00:01:10]
Tory Moore [00:01:11]
How do you like your steak?
Todd Thrift [00:01:13]
Tory Moore [00:01:14]
Oh, yeah. There we go. Okay. What's your ice cream order?
Todd Thrift [00:01:17]
Tory Moore [00:01:18]
Favorite -- oh, time's up. That was awesome. Thank you so much for playing that game with me. I love that your answer was steak to not just one, but two answers. I love a good steak for dinner as well.
So, let's get right into our interview. First, I want to learn a little bit more about each of you. So, Todd, first, if you'll tell me what your role as a beef specialist for UF IFAS is and what that looks like, what a day in the life looks like for you.
Todd Thrift [00:01:44]
So, I have a varied role with IFAS. I am 70% teaching. I teach courses in cow calf management, feedlot management, seed stock production, beef practicum, a myriad of all the beef cattle courses here at the university.
And then I have a 30% appointment and beef cattle extension where it's basically adult education relating to anything relating to a cow or the beef industry or anything surrounding the beef industry that ranges from food all the way back to the very production, the reproduction, the very basics of management and husbandry that go into the beef production industry.
Tory Moore [00:02:27]
Okay. Thank you. And Jim, as we discussed already a little bit, you're a cattle rancher. So, tell me a little bit about you and your ranch.
Jim Strickland [00:02:35]
Well, let me say I own Strickland Ranch, which is primarily leased, lease land. I'm a managing partner, a big red cattle company, which we have a purebred grapefruit herd. We raise hay, we lease our farmland there. I’m manager of several other places. Blackbeard's ranch is one of them. Two smart guys is one of them. main sheep the Prairie Ranch.
You know, these are not huge expanses of ranches, but these are covering in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto County, primarily a cow calf operation. We do participate. And part owner of Florida Cattle Ranchers, which is a group of about 12 ranchers in the state of Florida, which are really great ranchers that produce beef, that feed beef here in Florida, and then market that beef under Florida cattle ranchers branded program.
Tory Moore [00:03:27]
Okay. And tell me a little bit more about Strickland Ranch. I know that, I think it's a family ranch and has a really deeply rooted history. Is that right?
Jim Strickland [00:03:36]
It does. My, my family, the Strickland portion of family, came, came down from Georgia about 1850, 1860. We've never amassed any great amount of land or any fame or fortune down here. I think all of us through these generations have really loved the cattle.
So, that a little genealogical research we did in England that we saw Stricklin is land of strict or keeper of the cows. So, that was a really interesting piece of our genealogical search in England. The McDonald side of my family, of course, is Scottish, and they come from our sky and both sides of the family have history of being in the cattle business.
Tory Moore [00:04:21]
Very nice. And I actually want to comment on both of your backgrounds, which I know podcast listeners you can't see. But Jim, tell me a little bit about where you are joining us from right now and what you're doing today.
Jim Strickland [00:04:37]
Great question. In case I get cut off by a whole group of University of Florida filmmakers coming, coming in here, I'm at lunch at a ranch today.
One of my oldest best cowboy friend is Cliff Coddington. Cliff is president currently of the Florida Cattlemen's Association. And with us today is West Carleton from the East Coast, Alabama Ranch Spur Ranch and he is over here. And they're working with the University of Florida, filming the culmination of our upcoming annual convention at Marco Island, where they put films up on the big screen and tell kind of a history of the last year of Mr. Coddington’s presidency and what he hope to accomplish. And then you'll hear from West Carleton, you know, that he's teeing this all up for what he would love to accomplish in his year of leadership of the Florida Cattlemen's Association.
So, if I do get interrupted, it's because a whole group of University of Florida film students came in here and needed their equipment now moved to another room.
Tory Moore [00:05:43]
Right. And if your audio quality isn't the best, it's because you're out on a literal ranch. But thanks again for joining us. And then Todd, again, to describe for our listeners. You are in your office, right? And you have tons of papers behind you. And I think that that might speak to the extent of your role and just how much you do, how busy you are and what you do to support Florida cattle ranching.
Todd Thrift [00:06:07]
Yeah, so I've started -- this is 21 years accumulation of stuff, things that I think are important, too important to throw away. And so, I keep a lot of stuff in here. Someday, if the internet ever crashes, I will have all the beef cattle knowledge jammed up in one spot.
Tory Moore [00:06:24]
Thank goodness. You'll save us all right.
Todd Thrift [00:06:27]
Tory Moore [00:06:28]
All right. So, let's get to talking about the Florida cattle industry as a whole. So, I think about, you know, when people come to visit Florida and maybe they're making a commute down to south Florida, they're driving down the road they see all these cows on the side of the road. So, what are they seeing? It's beef cattle. But, but what is it that they're seeing? So, Todd, I'll let you start with that. Tell us a little bit about those operations.
Todd Thrift [00:06:51]
So, Florida is very unique. If we go back historically, the first cattle were brought to Florida in 1521. So, for 501 years, the oldest industry in this state has been cattle ranching. The Spanish originally ranched and had cattle here. They were eventually displaced by the Indians. What we know today is the Seminole Indians, but were different tribes at the time. The English came in and settled and adopted and a lot of them like, like Jim's family, the Scottish that came from the Carolinas, came into this area and started to ranch. So, ranching has existed here for a long time. And prior to the advent of air conditioning, Florida was pretty much a wasteland where we basically just had cows all over.
The Fence Law in Florida was passed in 1949, which was -- we were the last state in the United States to pass a fencing law. It said you had to fence your cows out, or had to fence cows in rather than fencing cows out of a, of a particular parcel of land. So, it's very unique. We were open range forever.
Now, things have changed a lot since 1949. What you see when you drive down the road on the turnpike are predominantly cows. Florida's predominately a cow calf state. We are 10th nationally in terms of the number of cows. There are about 950,000 mama cows in the state.
Those are basically our factories. Those, those cows will produce a calf that weighs around 500, 550, 600 pounds at seven or eight months of age. And a big percentage of those calves will leave the state in that seven, eight month range and go out west for further grazing or ultimately into a feedlot. Florida is very unique. We have eight of the top 15 largest cattle ranches in United States. If you get off a plane in Orlando in 30 minutes, you can be on Deseret Ranch, which has over 40,000 cows.
Tory Moore [00:09:09]
Todd Thrift [00:09:10]
And so we have a very unique industry here for sure, very different than lots of the rest of the southeast.
Tory Moore [00:09:10]
Thanks so much for painting that picture. I think that helps provide a lot clarity again to what people are seeing. And so, so Jim, we talked about how, at least for you, this is a family affair. Is that common of the cattle business? Is that, is it often a family operation?
Jim Strickland [00:09:27]
Yeah, most everybody, most everybody that I'm associated with, most everybody. It's a family operation of some sort. And, you know, there's only so many ways you can split the proverbial pie as generations pile up upon generations. You know, you started with great grandmother and great grandfather and then, you know, now all of a sudden we've got 50 heirs to this ranch. And cattle ranchers usually operate on a fairly slim margin of profit on these, on these lands. So most everybody I know in the cattle business is, is family.
But that never should preclude anybody that's not in the cattle business. Their mother and father were not in the cattle business. But if they want to be and they, they have a desire to be there, there's a spot for them in this, in this world we call the cattle industry of Florida or America.
And I always encourage everybody that if you didn't come from a cattle ranching family, that does not mean you cannot go to University of Florida and get a degree in animal science or anything and have professors like Dr. Todd Thrift teach you what you want to love, because not everybody in the family may love cattle business or you may marry into that family business. You may be a manager or you may be an allied member that could help us with feed, with fertilizer, with all those things that we depend on, those experts. That's my story. And to add one little fact to Todd's 501 years, I am sitting about 35, 39 miles is where the first cattle landed in North America in 1521.
Tory Moore [00:11:07]
Wow, that's awesome. So, tell me now that we know what Florida's beef cattle industry looks like, you've given some detail as to how it's unique. What is different about the cattle themselves versus maybe some cattle you see out west?
Todd Thrift [00:11:23]
So, in the Gulf Coast, we deal with a lot of different challenges than they might out west. They have challenges as well. There, you know, are the people that we deal with out West are dealing with fires, they're dealing with blizzards, they're dealing with all those kind of things. We deal with a lot of rain. We deal with a tremendous amount of humidity. We deal with often being very wet.
And the type of cow that thrives in this Gulf Coast climate is generally a Brahman cross cow. Brahman is a breed. It's very noted for their heat tolerance and their adaptation to insects. They were founded in this country in the -- right at 100 years ago, and they are the foundation for many of the other breeds like the Braford that, that Mr. Brad Adams founded here in Florida, the Santa Gertrudis, which was founded at King Ranch, the beef master, which is founded in South Texas.
So, the Gulf Coast, the unique environment we have, we can grow a tremendous amount of grass, but the grass is very low quality, the environment is very hot. An Angus cow, for instance, that we might see in South Dakota, she would love it to be about 55 degrees. That's where she's most comfortable and we are very rarely at 55 degrees. We've got one month, maybe two months where we're dealing with that. She's heat stress that 85, which is us about ten months of the year.
So, our industry is a lot different than out west. The way we handle cattle, the type of cattle, the management of our forages, the way we handle the land, all of those kinds of things are, are very different, even though we're all producing the same product.
Tory Moore [00:13:06]
Mm hmm. So, tell me a little bit more about -- you don't have to get into the exact science maybe -- but about heat stress. What does heat stress do to a cow? Why is that bad?
Todd Thrift [00:13:15]
So, any time a cow is heat stressed, we can have issues. She, you know, if you think about yourself and you're out mowing the lawn and it's hot and you know, your significant other says, “Hey, come on in, I've just cooked a big giant meal. Would you like to eat? I got 2 pounds of bacon and four pork chops.” And you know, when you're hot, you don't want to eat. And that's true of cows.
So, their feed intake goes down considerably. Their level of milk production can go down to some degree. We have a lot of researchers here in my department that work on embryos survival because the embryo’s vitality can go down, the embryos can actually -- the pregnancies can actually be harmed by the heat. A bull’s desire to mate goes down -- a lot of things.
Heat is, is really kind of detrimental. And we think about a lot of other cattle, they came from very cold parts of the world. Angus, Angus came from Scotland. Many of our cattle came from England or Europe. And so, the heat, they're not really as adapted to that, to that heat. And it does have multiple effects.
Tory Moore [00:14:26]
Yeah, it sounds like it. I mean, it's, it's more than I would just assume. And I know this Florida heat is intense is like, as you said, mixed with the humidity and the wet environment. It can be really, really, really hard.
Todd Thrift [00:14:37]
And because we're a peninsula state, we get a lot of solar radiation -- more here than they might in Texas or New Mexico or Arizona. You know, we have cattle all over in Arizona and New Mexico and it gets 120 degrees. And that's really hot. But at night it's 55 degrees and they can get some relief.
Whereas at night here, sometimes we're 80, 85 with 100% humidity. So, we're really operating cow calf operations in what we call the emergency temperature humidity index. I mean, that's, that's where we're at eight, nine months of the year. And there's certain types of animals that really thrive under those conditions.
Tory Moore [00:15:17]
Yeah. So, Jim, tell me a little bit more about additional maybe challenges you face as a cattleman in Florida.
Jim Strickland [00:15:25]
We live in a subtropical area, especially us down here in South Florida. We're a lot different than, say, Gainesville north, you know, and you'll see a little different type of cattle for the most part in North Florida as opposed to South Florida. But, what I live with is coming up with animals that can thrive, can survive the mosquitos and the water and the mud, the heat that he talks about, you know, and it's that constant searching for genetics that -- I love a female, I love whenever we are producing really nice Braford Beef master Brangus females, something with a little Brahman in them. They're gentle, you know, teaching them how to hold up with dogs to, you know, that whole selection process.
I look when I go into a herd for females because that's what's going to keep me in business. It's going to keep me in business. So, some, some of those females that I have, I've had their mothers, their grandmothers, their great grandmothers, their great, great grandmothers. I mean, there's been a lot of them that have been in the business.
But at the same time, one of the things that is our challenge, as he has talked about, is still producing an animal that will convert feed, that will grade and yield whenever it hits a feedlot or it goes to Kansas or Oklahoma, and it hits you know, it hits the grassland. So, something out there that can survive, that we can ship from Florida, that we can make money on, that somebody else can make money on by still retaining those female animals into our herd that are going to keep us cattlemen in business in South Florida.
So, we have to have those females that have been adapted and do a better job. We're constantly trying to do a better job of selecting those bulls that have those attributes that are gonna produce a calf that somebody else can make money on, or we can, like Florida cattle ranchers group, and still produce those great females with enough Brahman influence that, that is going to keep us in business down here in Florida.
Tory Moore [00:17:22]
And Todd, did you have anything to add?
Todd Thrift [00:17:25]
I've worked in different places. I grew up in Kentucky, I worked in Oklahoma, I've worked in Texas. And the ranchers that I work with here in Florida are probably some of the most connected, most astute ranchers in the nation. They fight not only lots of issues that they deal with on a regular basis, they, they work hard on the environment, they work hard working with Mother Nature or trying not to work against Mother Nature to produce a very safe product for our consumers.
You know, there's a lot of things that these guys don't get credit for. 75% of the wildlife in the in the United States is on private lands. And much of these big ranches, even the little ranches in Florida, serve as a reservoir for all kinds of wildlife, all kinds of endangered species, the water quality issues and some of those things. And Jim can speak to those more because I think that, that the cattle part is just one piece of the puzzle. Many of these ranches are involved in their communities. They're involved in, in what's going on with water. They're involved in so many different ways that a lot of people are not aware of.
Tory Moore [00:18:39]
Mm hmm. Yeah. So, Jim, if you can speak to that some more, maybe, you know, some of the environmental impacts as well. I don't, I don't think people are always aware of that. And I'm sure I have a lot to learn there as well.
So, tell me about how you guys make those impacts or provide those spaces for endangered species.
Jim Strickland [00:18:58]
Boy, Todd you really keyed that one up great.
One of my other nonpaying jobs is that I am the vice chairman of Florida Conservation Group, which advocates for ranches, ranch land conservation cost share practices.
But then the second one is really affiliated with the University of Florida. And that is the Florida Smart -- Florida Climate Smart Agricultural Group. They have a national and international presence. We have one here in Florida. I co-chair that committee with Lynetta Griner, which is a timber and cattle person and chief in Florida. We have, we have nearly every commodity represented there.
So, what we're looking at is what Todd kind of threw me a softball on the, on the ecosystem services and what we provide for the greater society of approximately 22 million people and we are studying with the University of Florida. In fact, we just got a $2 million budget from the legislature for University of Florida for $2.1 million to study artificial intelligence and ecosystem services that we're going to chat here about.
So, Todd said that beef is just one component. And he's absolutely right. That, you know, in the old days, whenever you went by a ranch and you'd see a great landscape, you would also see a group of beautiful black cows, red cows, white cows, it doesn't matter. But you would, you would sit there, you would sit there and talk about, you know, what a great landscape that is.
Now, we really have gotten to the point whenever they show up on the ranch and they, and they look at this ranch and they look at those animals and they look at that land, now we're going to talk about greenhouse gases and what that land does for the greater society. We're going to talk about water filtration. We're going to talk about putting more moisture and water down in the aquifers by having that those ephemeral wetlands of which we have hundreds of thousands of ephemeral wetlands, our wetlands, those shallow wetlands that go dry during the dry times and fill up full of water. We have hundreds of thousands of those scattered across Florida, and we call them nature's kidneys, that they purify a lot of water before it goes downstream.
So, you know, we all live in an area that water either flows through the Atlantic or it flows to the Gulf Coast. So, water is key. And what we can do for water is great. Also, what we can do is ecosystem services -- looking at it as food security. We all want to eat. You’re going to have that beef or you're going to have those vegetables, you're going to have those oranges. So now we've got some food security here. But in addition to that, we provide endangered species habitat on these large ranchland landscapes, Timberlands. At the end, we provide endangered species, but also wildlife -- all wildlife corridors. So, we, we've done -- we do a lot.
And I think that needs to be the conversation, not just we're producing some good hamburgers, but we are giving back to society those things that now and into the future. They're going to need off our great landscapes of timber and cattle. They survive in Florida.
When we talk, and we could talk about climate change, sea level rise -- right now I just had a meeting last night. We cannot sell any more insurance than Farm Bureau on new housing because of a lot of factors. One of them is sea level rise along the coast. There’s certain areas that you can not, hardly get insurance. If you do, the flood insurance is high. We know that something is happening. You know, we know that something's happening here in the state of Florida.
And I believe we're ground zero for a lot of issues, saying we can go back to the genetics of cattle if they can do that, that gene that we have better cattle, Holsteins, Jersey and Brahman, whichever one that do well in hotter climates, we may see not in my lifetime, but maybe in another lifetime. See those things that we're going to have to adapt to. But, but we want it to where that family of four, three or five that pulls up there. I want those children and those parents there to recognize exactly what these landscapes do for society, because there are very few of us in this business.
The mass vast majority of folks are live on the coast or metropolitan areas, and that's where they are. And it's up to people like Todd and myself. Every rancher, every Timberland owner.
But also, let's take in all those nursery operations. I mean, those nursery operations that are close to the coast provide a tremendous amount of attributes that society needs. You know, it's a proven fact that you have less stress, less heart attacks for the folks that live on a street in a suburban area that has trees that don't have trees. So, if you recognize that and extrapolate that value out, that we need to be recognized for those things that we do for society other than put a piece of beef on the table.
Tory Moore [00:24:04]
That's right. And I just, I don't think people know, right? I don't think people are aware. They just -- and that's exactly why we're here today to hear this straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and give this perspective.
So, how long have ranchers been invested in protecting the environment? Is this a new wave? Is this, has this been going on?
Todd Thrift [00:24:26]
I would say for 501 years, they have been active at this. At any time your, your land is in danger, then your business is in danger. And so, these guys are -- have protected their land and have worked to better that land for a tremendous amount of time. A lot of this land in Florida was originally timber, scattered timber, and the timber companies came in and cut the timber off and then left when they got what they needed. So, it was left and some of it would have been very nonproductive land had it been left to grow up, some of it would have regenerated into timber. Much of it was very wet and through the water management district, some of that land was drained in the thirties, forties, fifties and farmed for different crops, whether it was sugarcane or sweet corn or tomatoes or strawberries, whatever it was.
They are constantly working on improving that. And, but I think probably in the last 30 years it has been a huge push as we've had more people come into this state. There have been more issues with the environmental things that are going on. More of the ranchers spend more, more, more of their time dealing and talking about those environmental things and looking at the opportunities related to them.
Many of these ranchers today are in the business of farming water. They’re, like Jim said, they're serving as, as reservoirs for water and cleaning that water. And there's quite a bit of data that says as we move water out of those canals, run it through a ranch, it's filtered, and it becomes much more purified before it goes back into the system.
So, you know, this is a very unique ecosystem compared to where most ranchers out West who are dealing with drought and fight drought constantly had no water. We have to balance all of the water issues and all the other environmental issues that exist out there. And I think they do a great job and I think they've been doing it for a long time.
Tory Moore [00:26:46]
Yeah, it really drives home. I've heard the phrase that cattlemen are one of the first conservationists, right? So-
Todd Thrift [00:26:51]
And the first environmentalist.
Tory Moore [00:26:53]
And, exactly -- the first environmentalist. Exactly. You guys have shared so much about what the industry does, not just to get food on our plate, but for the environment and our state as a whole. So tell me, Todd, what makes you proud to work in the cattle industry?
Todd Thrift [00:27:09]
Well, I enjoy the interaction with people like Jim and other, other ranchers around the state. It charges my batteries to go out and talk to them about what they're doing, listen to what's going on. There are two or three groups here, like the Florida cattle ranchers that Jim mentioned that I work very closely with. We're working on research things that relate to the quality of the, the beef that's being produced through their deal. Looking at, you know, how it -- how the consumer may perceive that product, working with them on the economic production side of that and what it cost to produce it.
All of those things, you know, I work with another group called Florida Heritage Beef that is a group of ranchers that are very much at the edge of what they're doing. They're very national in terms of their scope. And so, those guys charge my batteries when I can get out in state and visit with those people. It really helps me from, from that standpoint. And of course, those experiences I can take back to the classroom and share with my students and, and, and I can give them real-world examples of things that are going on in the beef industry and how that affects -- how it will affect them in the future.
Tory Moore [00:28:25]
And Jim, what about you? What makes you proud to be a cattle rancher?
Jim Strickland [00:28:29]
Well, one thing I'm blessed. I truly believe I am, that I've been able to do what I wanted to do since I think I was probably six or seven years old. And I've had a lot of help and a lot of mentors. And I think that's part of our responsibility as encouraging those folks that maybe want to do what we love and whether they're that family operation or they’re that one student that came from downtown Orlando that wants to be a Todd Thrift and be a Todd Thrift then we need to encourage, we need to encourage those folks.
But we face a lot of challenges here in Florida. There's a lot of challenges that we have to living in Florida because we're such a small percentage of the population in a high growth state. I think we are truly one of the most dynamic, diverse and sexy states that there is in the United States of America. We're proud of what we do down in the country. But whenever we can walk hand-in-hand with a scientist and I can talk anecdotally whenever I go to Washington, D.C., or I go to Tallahassee or I speak to somebody that doesn't know about the cattle industry and take somebody that's a biologist, ecologist and environmental scientist, and with them, I can talk about what I know, which is landscape level.
What I can't do is get down in the weeds on research and data and quantification of data. That, by the way, is where we're at with the University of Florida right now. We have a $100 million ask to the federal government that our Florida Climate Smart group, coupled with University of Florida right now are doing a $100 million project to look into artificial intelligence and be able to quantify ecosystem services. University of Florida sitting there with, I think, it is the ninth most powerful computer in the nation called the hyper gator. And we have the ability with that hyper gator to use the stratus of information that we are going to get. So, whether it's topography, whether it's radar, whether it's light or whether it's motion sensors, whether it is high barometers, whether it is cameras that will identify the endangered species and then say this was Panther one, two or three or this was indigo snake, one, two or three go for tortoise, you know, and overlay all of those things -- I'm really proud to be a part of that process we're going through right now.
We have to be profitable to be sustainable. You cannot have sustainability before you have profitability. We have to be recognized for those things, which we do for society. And it may not be a cash payment, but we must be, if we're going to stay in business in a state like Florida, that we see land appreciation values going up so dramatically right now that it's very easy to decide that, you know, let's, let's sell some of the property.
One of the things that, you know, that I'm particularly proud of is working with people like Todd and the folks at University of Florida and all of these nonprofits, whether it's Florida Conservation Group, Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy. There's so many of them that us ranchers really need going into the future. We need their scientific data and research.
Tory Moore [00:31:50]
Well said, well said. So, Jim, I'll ask you this first. What is the most common misconception that you hear about cattle ranching and how is that different from how you operate your ranch and other ranches that you're involved in?
Jim Strickland [00:32:03]
Is it, is it our misuse of carbon? Is that, is it our belching cows? Is it our farting cows? It's, I think it's a little of everything. And I can't lay my hands on one specific, “Oh, my gosh, this is the issue I think it is this,” -- all those misconceptions that, that we are going to lean on y'all to tell the story which leans on the data that the Todd Thrifts of the world put together and give you and give me to where we can walk hand in hand. And I'm the guy that wants the cowboy to walk hand in hand with a scientist. I can tell that story, but I need somebody to back me up whenever, whenever we tell it.
Tory Moore [00:32:51]
And Todd, what about you? What do you think is the most common misconception that you hear?
Todd Thrift [00:32:56]
One of the things I think that a lot of people don't understand about cows is we run cows probably on over 50% of the land in this state. It may be closer to two thirds of the land. They're, they’re everywhere and they're utilizing land that much of which could not be farmed. We couldn't grow strawberries because it's too low and too wet, or it's not necessarily the right topography or the right soil type or -- and that's true of the whole United States as well. Cows, because they are ruminant, can utilize a lot of stuff that we have no reason to use. And you look at ecosystems like California, where cattle had been removed from that ecosystem.
The result of that is fire, very often -- very large, devastating fires. Cattle are an important part of that ecosystem. They have evolved in this ecosystem in Florida for 500 years. They take a product that you and I cannot digest, and they turn it into high quality protein. We feed cows a tremendous number of byproducts as well. A lot of people think that, “oh, well, we feed them all this corn and we could feed people all over the world that corn.” And the reality is we don't feed that much of that kind of stuff.
We feed the byproducts of manufacturing food for humans. We feed molasses, which is a byproduct of the sugar manufacturing industry. We feed corn gluten feed, which is a byproduct of making the high fructose corn syrup. We feed all kinds of things like citrus pulp, which is a byproduct to orange juice. Those are fed to the cows in the wintertime as a supplement. And the rest of the time she's really a walking solar energy cell because photosynthesis from the grass, it, we turn it into high quality protein because she's got a rumen. For every 1 pound of human-edible protein that we feed to a cow, we get 4 pounds of human-edible protein back.
Tory Moore [00:34:52]
Todd Thrift [00:34:53]
A lot of people don't understand that.
Tory Moore [00:35:06]
Wow, That's huge. That's huge.
All right. So, as we wrap up today, I would ask you, maybe this is the toughest question so far, but if a listener to the podcast only remembered one thing we discussed today, what would you hope that they remember? Jim, I’ll have you go first on that question.
Jim Strickland [00:35:25]
Whenever you look at the environmental status of these big landscape timber and cattle ranches and you decide where you want Florida to be in the future, we know we're going to have a huge population growth. We know we already have sea level rise. We know we're going to have some climate change. We're going to be a dynamic state. We're going to be a political swing state, a presidential state. We're going to, we're going to attract a whole lot of folks.
What they need to take with them is that to maintain all those, we really need these landscape-level areas, and we need to recognize the benefits that they give to society that is not going to be a cattle ranch or something ecologically, environmentally better. No matter what you do, you're going to have impervious surfaces, you're going to have more pesticides, or more herbicides. You know, if it's golf courses. But we are going to have those things. We're definitely going to have those things. It’s recognizing how to save these areas that need to be saved and start working on it right now.
Keep in mind, also, that history teaches us a lot of things. One is every single home or condominium or road or parking lot in Florida, at one point used to be a cattle ranch. So, every single thing that we look at at one point was something to do with cattle. The timberlands that stretch across North Florida had cattle across them. So, you don't see any housing developments being bulldozed down for a cattle ranch. You are going to see cattle ranches become housing development, golf courses. So, let's recognize that one thing that you can latch on to. So, whether it's carbon sequestration, whether it's greenhouse gas effect, whether it’s wildlife corridors, corridors, endangered species habitat, or the simple food security it's going to take for us to stay alive 100 years from now. You know, recognize what we do for society.
Tory Moore [00:37:39]
Mm hmm. And now, Todd so again, if our listeners forget everything else you said, what's the one thing you hope they remember?
Todd Thrift [00:37:46]
I would leave you with the thing that, that I think is very important, and that's food security. And Jim hit on that as well. I would like that we continue to grow the majority of the food we consume in this country, in this country. And Florida is an important piece of that puzzle. We have the safest, most efficient food supply system in the world here in the United States. And cattle are a big piece of that. What we do utilizing photosynthesis and the grass I mentioned earlier, areas that we can't use for anything else, we can put cattle there and we can raise a very high-quality product from that and do it very effectively. And enhance the environment in the process. We get a lot of negativity about environmental impacts and carbon and different things. The reality is cattle are probably net positive big time. When we talk about all of the things that we've discussed today on this podcast.
Tory Moore [00:38:51]
Well thank you so much both for your time and insight. I know I've learned a lot and I hope that our listeners do too. So, thank you again for coming on the show today.
Todd Thrift [00:39:00]
Enjoyed it very much. Thank you for having us.
Tory Moore [00:39:02]
Thank you. So that's it for today's episode of The Food is our Middle Name podcast. To learn more about Florida cattle ranching and what we discussed today, you can check out the episode notes.