DECEMBER 11, 2017 08:55 PM
I am a sixth-generation Floridian and third-generation Florida cattle rancher. My grandfather founded our ranch, Williamson Cattle Company, in the 1940s. Our family-run ranch is located in Okeechobee County, the heart of Florida’s cattle county.
Many people don’t realize the extent to which cattle ranching is important to Florida’s economy and the critical role ranching plays in protecting the state. We are a rural county, but we live in a disappearing landscape. There are more than 150,000 cattle in Okeechobee County, almost four times the population of people. Yet we are within 150 miles of 13 million Flordians.
Our rural lands are giving way to development as 1,000 people a day move to Florida. As development increases, ranches are under increasing economic pressure to be divided and sold. Cattle ranches protect Florida’s last frontier from development and are crucial to protecting wildlife and water, natural landscape and wetlands. Much of the land on our ranch has been left in its natural state; we are proud to protect native wildlife, and we manage the land so wildlife can flourish. Wetlands on cattle ranches supply valuable habitat while acting as natural water storage that help clean and supply drinking water to millions of people in South Florida. Ranchers have worked with the World Wildlife Fund, Audubon and others to ensure that our ranching practices are environmentally sustainable.