THE CATTLE RANCHING business in Florida supports more than 50,000 jobs and brings more than $6 billion in overall impact to the state — but for J.B. and Leigh Ann Wynn, it’s a way of life.
When the couple married 12 years ago, each brought their own knowledge and experience in the business to their partnership. He is president of the Polk County Cattlemen’s Association; she serves as assistant vice president for advancement at Warner University, where she’s a big part of the new agricultural program.
The couple’s love of the land, the cattle ranching business, and each other shines through when they talk about their lives and the business. Business, by the way, has been very good. “It sure has been a great time to be in the cattle business,” says J.B., “especially if you had those cows before four or five years ago.”
“I was raised working with my Dad, Dennis, who was a part-time cattle rancher. That’s all he wanted to do, was ranch full-time. He passed away five years ago before he got the chance to retire and run cows full-time. I’m never going to forget to live out his dreams every day,” J.B. adds. “Besides, I love it.”
It’s important to love the business, he says. No one should get into it to become wealthy. “For years, cattle have never promised to make anyone rich,” he points out. “You have got to love this type of lifestyle if you are going to succeed in it. Just in the past few years, some folks have been able to get ahead of the rising cost of feed.”
Chris Denmark, with Marketing and Development at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says the state has experienced an upswing in the business. The numbers are terrific, but he points out that there are other factors involved. “It’s great on the surface,” he states. But, he says, there are costs involved to get the numbers that high — prices to pay. Still, the industry is showing very strong numbers.
Like her husband, Leigh Ann learned to love the business as a child. She was born into the Lightsey Cattle Co. family and the business is a way of life for her. “I love it,” she says of the industry. “It’s wholesome, it’s good, honest work. As a child growing up, I didn’t even know there was any other way to live.”
She says she loves to share the joys of the life they lead with others. “It’s fun to have groups out to the ranch for eco-tours who have never been outside of the city,” she says. “Growing up, I thought everyone was raised showing steers, bottle-feeding dobey calves, and working in the watermelon fields, but I quickly learned that most people aren’t.”
Living in the ranching life makes up a big part of being a Floridian, she says. There’s a rich history in the state for cattle ranchers. Historians believe cattle came to the state in the 1500s — starting a long and rich industry history.
Florida has its important place in the industry
Many aspects of the business are unique to the Sunshine State. “Florida is one of the few states that can address all aspects of cattle industry at this time to a large degree,” Denmark says. “There must be calf supply, feeding systems, slaughter facilities, and consumer demand in place to effectively serve the entire industry — and Florida has it all.”
“Florida ranches are the backbone of conservation efforts in the state of Florida. Landowners work with conservation, environmental, water districts, and wildlife organizations to effectively create a safe wild life habitat and manage green space for the rest of Florida’s population.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reports that cash receipts for Florida livestock ranchers and dairy farmers reached a record $1.97 billion in 2013 — the most recent data available. This is a $128 million increase from 2012. These record receipts supported 51,049 Florida jobs, generated tax revenues of $112.6 million, and had a $6.2 billion overall impact on the Florida economy.
Exports of processed meat products have risen gradually since 2009 to a total of $682.6 million in 2013. And, future projections for the industry are solid.
“My wife Leigh Ann and I plan to continue to grow our herd by continuing to keep good replacement heifers, not necessarily by buying any more cows in the near future. Prices are too high right now.”
Of their life on the ranch, Leigh Ann adds, “I can’t wait until J.B. and I adopt a few children in the next few years, and we get to raise them in this lifestyle. The ranch is the best place to get their fingernails dirty and teach them hard work and dedication, the way we were raised.”
It’s clear that it will be a family love affair for many years to come. “I love my job,” J.B. Wynn says. “It’s hard to consider it a job, really. I get to wake up and do what I enjoy every day.”
FLORIDA FACTS ON THE BEEF CATTLE INDUSTRY:
• Florida is a cow/calf state: Nursery that supplies calves to feeder systems (unique aspect)
• Ranches raise calves to about 500-600 pounds to ship to feedlots
• Florida has 916,000 head of cows in 2015 (mother beef cows) up 10 percent from the previous year
• Florida sends calves to the feedlots due to economics of logistics – 3500 pounds of corn feed to Florida vs 500-pound calf to Texas Feedlot
• The largest cow/calf operation in the U.S. is Deseret Ranch in Osceola County (42,000 cows). Three of the top five cow/calf operations are headquartered in Florida. Four of those ranches have property in Florida. Five of the top ten; or eight of the top twenty; Nine of the top 25 are Florida-based operations (Lightsey Cattle Co. is No. 8). All are within two hours of either Miami or Orlando.
story by MARY TOOTHMAN
photo by PEZZIMENTI