If you are in the ranching business, then you are aware that to the general public, ranching and environmental conservation do not typically go hand in hand. However, those of us who have been in the cattle industry for most of our lives know that ranchers are the original stewards of the land, making sure the land they own and manage not only provides their cattle the ability to graze, but also employing many conservation practices which provide great returns to the many wildlife species which cohabitate with cattle on a ranch. Environmental stewardship and conservation have long been the focus of America’s farmers and ranchers.
I grew up on my family’s cattle operation, Rafter T Ranch, in Sebring, Fla. As an environmental studies student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., I was often the one to point out to my instructors and fellow students that not only do ranchers care about their businesses, but also the environment. In wanting to share my family’s unique story of merging sound environmental practices with a successful cattle operation, my father, Jimmy Wohl, and I invited a group of environmental studies students from Rollins College to visit Rafter T Ranch. Our ranch was the winner of the 1994 Environmental Stewardship Award (ESAP), presented by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Now in its 22nd year, ESAP was created to recognize beef producers who make environmental stewardship a priority on their farms and ranches while they also improve production and profitability. ESAP annually recognizes the outstanding stewardship practices and conservation achievements of U.S. cattle producers from across the nation, with the common trait among all winners being the desire to leave the land in better shape for future generations while also inspiring the next generation of land stewards.
The 16 students arrived to the ranch eager to see how a live cattle operation works. The group spent four hours at the ranch, first with a overview of the ranch, its history and the various programs that are being implemented. After the introduction, they toured the land to see the environmental projects, particularly the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Stewardship Project (FRESP). Rafter T Ranch hosts a variety of projects related to water conservation and water storage as part of restoring the Everglades. Restoration of the Everglades helps preserve the state's ranching economy. Cattle ranches contain much of Florida's remaining natural habitat, and keeping cattlemen and women in business is critical to both the health of Florida's lands and waters and the strength of its economy. Not only did the group learn about water conservation and management, they also learned about practices commonly used in the Florida ranching industry, such as prescribed burning, wildlife management and rotational grazing.
By visiting our family’s operation, these environmental studies students, who will no doubt go on to become leaders in the environmental field, had a tremendous opportunity to improve their understanding of what the circumstances are for private property owners who want to do the right thing but are constrained by their need to run a business. Ranchers work with many different government agencies, both at the state and federal levels, in a cooperative way that provides environmental benefits while also providing economic incentives for property owners, which in turn yields better results.
Another benefit gained by the students who visited our ranch is having better knowledge of where their food comes from. Farmers and ranchers work tirelessly each day to provide consumers with a quality product that makes its way onto their plates. Being able to see some of the projects provides a better understanding of the role and rich traditions ranching has in America.
Hosting the Rollins College group provided my family and I with a rewarding feeling knowing that that we are sharing our story about the ranching community in Florida. It would be a beneficial to the cattle industry everywhere to host tours like this so we can continue to tell our story; that we are a viable, sustainable agricultural industry producing a nutritious product for the United States and the world. Today, ranchers across the country are committed to helping protect our natural resources through numerous conservation efforts. If you are interested in learning more about Rafter T Ranch and the visit by students at Rollins College, please check out the video that was filmed during the event by clicking here.
Source: Casey Wohl, Rafter T Ranch and Gray Dog Communications