75 years at Range Cattle REC in Ona marks more change on the horizon

THE RANGE CATTLE RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER in Ona recently held its 75th Anniversary Celebration and Field Day. John Arthington’s leadership as center director is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the center’s history. He’s been there 18 years, and he’s led the center for 11. He’s only the fourth director in Range Cattle REC history!

To get a sense of how long this center has served cattle producers, consider this: 75 years ago, UF got the land for $2.25 an acre. Seventy-five years ago, 95 percent of Hardee County was in beef production. And 75 years ago, a trade publication reported, quote, “Good or purebred bulls were a ‘curiosity.’ ” And it reported that only a limited area of Hardee County had been planted with improved grasses.


What hasn’t changed is that cattle producers recognize that science can make their lives — and those of their animals — a whole lot better. And the land-grant university is still the place to go for that science.

Here’s another thing that hasn’t changed in 75 years. Dr. Elver Hodges started there as an associate agronomist in 1941. The range wasn’t even fenced back then! He spoke at the 50th anniversary of the center. He turned 104 years old in August, and he was there for the October celebration. Hodges is a founding faculty member of the UF/IFAS Range Cattle REC, a 39-year employee, and a 2014 Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee.

I like to think that in some ways, the Range Cattle REC is still like it was when Dr. Hodges started working there in 1941. That is, a place full of smart people who had great relationships with producers, worked hard to solve their problems, and had a darn good time doing it.

And like the legislators, citizens, and cattlemen that helped get the place started, our supporters today know that this is a place of their creation. The new Grazinglands Education Building, for example, was built with the support of Mosaic and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.


Because the industry supported our funding requests in Tallahassee, we now have Raoul Boughton in Ona, figuring out how often coyotes kill ranchers’ calves. We have Chris Prevatt crunching numbers to determine which forages will help producers’ bottom line. And Gleise Silva just finished research on pregnant cow nutrition because Westway paid her graduate stipend. She lived in student housing at the center the Florida Cattlemen’s Association helped us build.

Going back to its beginnings, it all started when a group of Hardee County citizens, cattlemen, and legislators turned to science for solutions. They enlisted their land-grant university in that search for solutions, and together they opened the center. So much science has come out of it since.

Today, a good bull isn’t a curiosity, it’s the norm. And this center continues to turn out high-quality forages that contribute to ranchers’ bottom line.

The October event was about sharing the latest science. But socially, it was about showing producers how things have always been. That’s why I’m so glad we had FCA Executive Vice President Jim Handley and President Ned Waters at the event. The FCA has helped us rebuild the Range Cattle REC so that we have the tools we need to provide solutions to the state’s producers.

The industry’s frank feedback has helped to ensure that our work is relevant and useful. During a dinner the night before the field day, we paid tribute to the FCA with a video we were supposed to show at our Dinner of Distinction in Gainesville. The dinner was canceled because of Hurricane Matthew. And while a hurricane can cancel a dinner, it can’t stop us from saying “Thank you.” So we used the Ona celebration to present Jim and Ned with the award we’d hoped to give on Oct. 7, the 2016 UF/IFAS Industry Partner Award.

It reads: “For their continued partnership in advancing UF/IFAS priorities through legislative advocacy and philanthropic support, we proudly present this award to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.”

We look forward to another 75 years of providing science-based solutions to the state’s cattle producers.


article by JACK PAYNE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Email jackpayne@ufl.edu and follow @JackPayneIFAS

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