Florida might not seem like cattle country when compared to the wide-open plains of Texas or Oklahoma, but the Sunshine State is actually home to as many as a third of the country’s top 20 cow-calf ranches. For almost 80 years, Adams Ranch has been helping to raise the profile of Florida beef while retaining its position as one of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S.
Founded in 1937, the fourth-generation family-owned and -operated ranch encompasses some 50,000 acres, with 8,000 mother cattle spread across St. Lucie, Madison, Okeechobee and Osceola counties.
Focused largely on the production of Braford cattle, Adams Ranch has developed a strong herd over the course of its 40-year closed breeding program. Selected for their fertility, milking ability, easy calving, longevity and heat tolerance, Adams Ranch raises all of its cattle without the use of antibiotics or hormones. In addition to Braford cattle, Adams Ranch strives to produce breeds that are conducive to the climate in the South. This has produced Braford composite breeds such as ABEEF, ARRAB and ARGEL.
Keeping it in the state
Having grown into a major player in the domestic beef cattle market, Adams Ranch is now working to gain greater control over its final product by keeping cows on its ranch for a longer period and teaming up with a local feed lot and processor to keep the cattle in the state.
“We used to keep cattle for nine months, but now we’re holding onto them until they’re 17 to 20 months of age. It’s really a whole new endeavor to carry them that much longer,” says Mike Adams, president of Adams Ranch.
The decision to extend the amount of time the ranch retains its cattle was largely driven by an overall slump in the beef market. Forecasting a stagnant market ahead for traditional beef products, Adams Ranch decided to evolve into more of a specialty producer. By retaining its cattle for twice as long, Adams Ranch can create a product that will not only command a better price, but raise the ranch’s profile as a whole.
“There has been a push in the cattle industry to prove beef quality assurance from the ranch on through to the table. This gives us the opportunity to control things all the way through rather than rely on other producers that may use antibiotics and hormones in the supply chain,” Adams says. “It also changes it from just a commodity beef product into more of a name-brand beef product, so it’ll carry our name, which will help our reputation among consumers and other ranchers.”
The company’s steers were once sent to feed lots in Texas and Kansas, but as Adams works to develop Adams Ranch into a well-known brand, the company has turned to partners in Florida to assist in finishing and processing.
“We're working with Quincy Cattle Company, a local feed yard. The cattle are fed a grain based diet while on unique large grass paddocks. Feeding allows the cattle to reach uniform American Grading Standards mostly choice and prime,” he says.
Once the cattle reach the appropriate size, they are transferred to Fort McCoy Beef Products where they are processed using a more humane method than the industry standard.
“Fort McCoy is sort of new to Florida, but they’ve built a state-of-the-art processing facility that meets all the standards that Whole Foods is requiring as well as what we’ve been looking for, so it’s a good fit,” he adds.
Adams Ranch made the switch to Fort McCoy a year ago; a move that allowed the company to land one of its highest-profile clients to date: Whole Foods Market.
Building a stronger brand
The partnership with Fort McCoy and Whole Foods represents an exciting new opportunity for Adams Ranch, giving the company access to the higher end of the beef cattle market and the chance to establish itself as a trusted name in natural beef.
“By developing your own brand it does give you a little more control over the marketing so you’re not just lumped in with everybody else,” says Adams.
To him, the partnership with Fort McCoy represents the culmination of a longstanding dream to see the ranch’s cattle stay in the state for the duration of the raising, feeding and processing cycle. “This is really the first time we’ve had all those pieces together to put together that kind of program on a larger scale,” he says.
Adams Ranch began providing beef to a number of Whole Foods stores across Florida in early 2016 with plans to serve a majority of the state’s locations in the near future.
“Florida was the only region without regional meat producers,” says Jim McLallen, Florida regional meat coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “I had been looking for years but they all used antibiotics and hormones.”
By teaming up with Adams Ranch, Whole Foods can deliver the fresh, organic, local meat that its customers are looking for while supporting a family-owned and –operated business. “They have been able to produce a very high quality product that aligns with what our customers are looking for. It’s been well over a year since I first set foot on the ranch and they have all been a great group to work with; a poster child for working well with our program and customers,” McLellan says.
Teaming up with an industry leader
If Adams Ranch finds success in Whole Foods, Adams could very well see the company expanding its footprint beyond Florida to serve customers throughout the Southeast and potentially, the country. “If we can expand what we’re doing with Whole Foods, that will be exciting. It does look like there has been more interest with people wanting to buy their beef locally, so we’ll be expanding that as well,” he says.
In addition to operating as one of the nation’s largest cow-calf ranches, Adams Ranch also prides itself on its commitment to environmental stewardship, opening up its 50,000-acre property to hunting and recreation through its game management program. “It’s always been a part of our business culture to have a focus on the environment,” Adams says.
As the family-owned and -operated company continues to grow and pursue new growth opportunities, Adams is confident that the next generation of leadership will carry on the proud family tradition for another 80 years. “I have two nephews, a niece and my own son now working for the company. They’re in their mid-30s and they’re contributing a lot to the business,” he says.
With exciting new opportunities on the horizon and strong, family leadership to guide it along its path, Adams Ranch is sure to remain one of the country’s top cow-calf ranches.