Even as an experienced ranch manager, Jim Strickland had never faced a challenge like this.
In 2014, Galinski Enterprises bought a 4,500-acre ranch of native and tame pasturelands near Myakka City, Florida. Now known as Blackbeard’s Ranch, it’s about 30 miles east of Sarasota, Florida, one of the fastest-growing regions in the country.
Strickland recognized the potential for multiple income streams from the ranch. And it was ecologically significant, which lent to some opportunities. But it was a mess.
“When we came here in November 2014, it was pretty much a jungle with [tropical] soda apple, wax myrtle and dogfennel,” Strickland says. “I had never taken over a 4,500-acre ranch that needed an almost overwhelming amount of work.”
It was up to Strickland as managing partner to see to that work. And it’s paid off. After five years, bahiagrass pastures are productive. Natural areas are restored. Carrying capacity has increased at least 25%.
Ranch enterprises now include the commercial cow-calf operation, bahiagrass sod, cabbage palms, hay, wild honey, wholesale and retail Florida beef and Mangalitsa pork operations.
The ranch provides a buffer to Myakka River State Park and protects the headwaters of two significant slough systems that drain into the river. Those natural slough systems help maintain water quality and quantity to downstream estuaries. The ranch also provides habitat for many threatened wildlife species.
Strickland has capitalized on the ranch’s ecological significance to invite nonagricultural groups to see how a working Florida ranch benefits the environment.
For both his land management and his community outreach, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) named Strickland and Blackbeard’s Ranch as the national winner of its 2019 Environmental Stewardship Award.
Early on, Strickland sprayed brush he could get a spray rig over and ran a roller-chopper over taller brush. He did lots of spot-spraying. He mowed. He burned both native and improved pastures.
“Florida is a pyrogenic state,” Strickland says. “It evolved with fire. Native pastures need to be burned every two to three years to stimulate growth of the grass and remove dead thatch.”
Burning also suppresses several invasive species and stimulates native grasses and seed production for wildlife.
In his improved pastures, Strickland added to the crossfencing to improve rotational grazing. He also concentrated on getting control of invasive plants, making the soils productive and, as necessary, reseeding Argentine bahiagrass.
“I put an emphasis on getting the soil pH right and the fertility right,” he says. “Looking back, I should have included more emphasis on [broadcast] weed spraying, especially with a soil residual herbicide. There’s such a seedbank out there.”
Strickland did a lot of spot-spraying. “I kept three people busy for a year on four-wheelers hand-spraying brush and weeds,” he says.
For tropical soda apple, the crew used Milestone® herbicide. “I told them, ‘Spray the whole plant and don’t stop when the first drops hit the ground," he says. “I wanted that soil activity.”
Soil residual herbicides such as Milestone, GrazonNext® HL and now new DuraCor™ herbicide stay active in the soil for weeks after application to hold down new germination of susceptible broadleaf weeds.
PastureGard® HL herbicide is Strickland’s tool of choice for wax myrtle. For dogfennel, he’s used PastureGard HL alone or in a tank mix with GrazonNext HL. Used alone, PastureGard HL has no soil residual activity.
That makes it his choice for weed control in pastures where he intends to lift bahiagrass sod. That way, he doesn’t risk sending residual soil activity with the sod.
Under Strickland’s management, stocking on the ranch has grown from 800 cows when the partners bought the place to more than 1,000 today.
“I think we could run 1,500 and not put out much fertilizer,” Strickland says. “We use tissue and soil samples now and identify which areas need the minimal amounts.
“Even at 1,500 head, we would still have options for sod and seed, but we’d have to manage a little tighter. We might need summer annuals like millet and winter annuals like rye and ryegrass. Florida is a land of hurricanes and droughts, and I don’t ever want to be forced to sell cows.”
For now, Strickland is content to stock more like a typical Florida cow-calf operation. What is not typical is the number of people from outside agriculture he entertains on the ranch. About every month, some group visits to learn about ranching and its value to Florida ecosystems.
“We can collaborate with environmentalists and politicians and answer questions, but we can’t say, ‘We’re going to educate you,’” Strickland says. “We need to be respectful.”
In those meetings, Strickland and the consulting biologist, Julie Morris with the National Wildlife Refuge Association, are prepared for questions about herbicides.
“We live in a subtropical climate. Invasive weeds grow year-round. We can’t control them all by hand or with fire,” Strickland says. “We have to use herbicides. We use them with care and with good advisers.
“Our goal is to show that one can run a profitable cattle operation and protect Florida’s land, water and wildlife.”
Label precautions apply to forage treated with DuraCor, GrazonNext HL or Milestone and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage.
™ ® Trademarks of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer, and their affiliated companies or their respective owners. DuraCor, GrazonNext HL and Milestone are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. GrazonNext HL is not for sale, distribution or use in New York state and San Luis Valley of Colorado. Always read and follow label directions.