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Florida Cattle Ranchers Seek Locally Grown Label

November 4, 2013

Source: Associated Press

Under the "Fresh From Florida" marketing campaign offered by the state's agriculture officials to stores and consumers, people are encouraged to buy things that are grown and raised in the Sunshine State.

Alligator, tomatoes and, of course, oranges are on the list.

One thing isn't highlighted: Florida beef. That's because, unlike many other states, it's nearly impossible to buy beef that's been born, raised, slaughtered and processed in Florida -- even though it was the first state to have large-scale cattle ranches.

There are nearly 1 million head of calves and cattle in Florida and the industry contributes about $2 billion to the state's economy. Seven of the nation's 25 largest cattle ranches are in Florida, according to the Florida Beef Council.

Most calves are born and raised here, but are finished and processed in states like Texas or Oklahoma, as there's only one large slaughterhouse in Florida at the moment. Despite ranking 10th nationally in the number of cattle, Florida ships the majority of them -- 700,000 feeder calves -- to other states.

Cattle ranchers who realize there's a demand for locally grown meat have asked agriculture officials for a designation. But before the likely tag can be applied, the state must first decide what, exactly, Florida beef is. Does the cow have to spend its entire life in Florida?

"Adding value to Florida beef through the Fresh From Florida brand is something we are excited about," said state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam, a fifth-generation Floridian from a cattle-ranching family.

The ranchers' quest to be included on the "Fresh From Florida" list is a testament to how popular local food has become -- and because ranchers know it's more sustainable and cheaper to keep an animal in state. Small farms, farmers markets and specialty food makers have emerged nationwide, and Florida is no different.

"It's a niche that I believe people will respond to," said Don Quincey, a cattle rancher.

During the winter months, it's easy to find plenty of local veggies and fruits here. But cattle ranchers say that it will take a little for them while to bring local farm-to-fork beef to the public.

"Let's face it. If went into the supermarket and you saw `Fresh from Mexico,' `Fresh from Arizona' and `Fresh from Florida,' and you're in Florida, which one would you buy?" said Florida rancher Tom Harper.

Over the centuries, cattle have thrived in Florida, freely grazing the swampland and eating wild oranges and scrub brush -- a scenario that would make any locavore drool.

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