The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association announced Blackbeard’s Ranch in Myakka, Fla., as the winner of the 2019 Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The award was presented at the 2020 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show in San Antonio, Texas.
Established in 1991, by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to recognize outstanding land stewards in the cattle industry, ESAP is generously sponsored by Corteva Agriscience; McDonald’s; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.
“Cattlemen and cattlewomen have been caring for our nation’s natural resources for generations,” said NCBA President Jennifer Houston. “As stewards of the land, we recognize the importance of improving environmental management practices and protecting our ecosystems. Blackbeard’s Ranch is a leading example of the outstanding stewardship found in our industry and serves as inspiration for producers everywhere.”
“My family has been in Florida for six generations,” said Blackbeard’s managing partner Jim Strickland. “We've always been in the cattle business, and we’ve always taken pride in caring for the land to ensure we’re protecting the land, air and water resources that have been entrusted to us”
Today Blackbeard’s Ranch, with origins in the Hutches Ranch in the 1930s, is one of the last large intact working cow-calf operations in this part of southwest Florida. Today, the cowherd includes approximately 600 head of Beefmaster, Brangus and Charolais cattle, who pasture just east of the sandy beaches and high rises on the Gulf of Mexico.
Each day an estimated 1,000 new residents move to Florida, putting significant pressure on the state’s natural resources, but it also provides a unique opportunity for the Strickland family to teach people about ranch lands, water and what Florida ranchers do.
“In the last five or six years, Jim has really embraced conservation, and actually formed a group of ranchers called the Florida Conservation Group,” said Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. “They're all like-minded ranchers who are interested in preserving as much country as possible, keeping it in private hands.”
Strickland worked with National Resources Conservation Services to dedicate one-third of the ranch into a permanent conservation easement to protect water quality down-stream, restoring the wetlands and the native hydrological regime on 1,500 acres.
“We're still grazing cattle on it,” Strickland said. “But that easement program fit for us.”
In the last four years the ranch team focused on thinning dense trees and removing invasive plants. Their plan is to use herbicide treatments and prescribed burns, which means burning 50 to 100 acres at a time to help the land, cattle and the wildlife.
The ranch team installed water troughs driven by wind and solar power to ensure cattle have clean water. Adding five windmills and three solar wells allowed them to implement a rotational grazing plan without depending on ponds that commonly dry up.
“When we bought this ranch, one of the ideas was to have a ranch where conservation and agriculture meet,” said Strickland. “And one of the ways to get our word out initially was to utilize the common bond with have with the residential population of Florida. That common bond was food.”
Strickland expanded the ranch’s products to include beef, honey and pork to maximize income opportunities and share the story of agriculture and conservation. He now regularly hosts bus loads of people eager to learn about conservation on Florida ranchlands. Strickland also welcomes legislators, state and federal agencies to the ranch to show how critical ranching is to conserving land to benefit native wildlife populations.
“The real treasure of this operation, the true treasure of Blackbeard, is the land itself,” said Strickland, “and not the gold doubloons the pirates may have hidden on this ranch.”