Pasco County will welcome cattle ranchers from across the nation Tuesday as it showcases the region's beef producers during the National Cattlemen's Beef Association convention at the Tampa Convention Center.
"It's a big deal -- not only for Pasco County but also for Florida," said Ed Jennings, the county's extension agent. "I went to the national convention the last time it was in Florida, back in 1987. But that was in Orlando."
Tampa has never hosted the Cattle Industry Convention before. As many as 4,000 cattlemen are expected in town for the convention, which coincides with the opening of the Florida State Fair on Feb. 7. The preconvention tour includes visits to the Barthle Brothers Ranch and Two Rivers Ranch.
"These two ranches can showcase how beef production can thrive in this area despite urbanization and that they can be extremely compatible with the environment," Jennings said. "I'm really proud of these two operations. I can't wait to show them off to the rest of the nation."
Even at $180 per person, demand for the tour was so high convention planners were forced to add a third tour bus.
Larry Barthle said he's honored to host the tour group Tuesday morning and show them how his family has kept the ranch going for 80 years. The Barthles raise Brangus, Hereford bulls and purebred Brahman cattle. They also breed quarter horses, sell grass seed and operate a quail- and turkey-hunting facility during those seasons.
"We keep diversifying into different fields, and we try to be more efficient," Barthle said.
Robert Thomas, president of Two Rivers Ranch, said he'll show off a bit of his ranching operation before leading the group to Crystal Springs Preserve, where they will have lunch at the pavilion.
"We're going to show them the ground-fed springs at the preserve. I'm sure a lot of them have never seen something like that," he said. "I'm not surprised they had to add a third bus. Where they're coming from, it's freezing. I think they'll get a kick out of walking around in shirtsleeves."
But warm weather isn't the only reason Tampa is hosting the convention.
"People don't realize Florida was the first cattle ranching state in the nation -- long before Texas," Thomas said. "We've had cattle here for 500 years. They were brought by the Spaniards in the 1400s."
Florida used to be one of the top beef-producing states in the nation, but it has slipped to 16th as more ranches are sold for development. Barthle said last year's devastating drought in the Midwest has shifted more beef production to Florida and other southern states.
"We might be back in the top ten this year," Barthle said. "Thousands of those cows were shipped to Florida from Texas because of the drought. There just wasn't anything for them to eat there."
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