Founded in 1937, fourth generation family-owned Adams Ranch is one of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S. “In 2013 we were ranked No. 13 in terms of cow-calf ranches in the country,” reveals Mike Adams, third generation president of the Florida-based company.
When Mike’s grandfather, Alto Lee Adams Sr., started the ranch in 1937 the original core property was just shy of 15,000 acres. Now, 77 years later, Adams Ranch manages more than 50,000 acres across St. Lucie, Madison, Okeechobee and Osceola counties with an excess of 8,000 mother cows.
Cracker cows launch a family legacy
In the late 1930s, Alto Sr. had the foresight to jump on a tract of unfenced grassland in St. Lucie County that was valued at next to nothing. “At the time, Florida was still in the Great Depression and real estate was a bust,” recalls Mike. “The land had little value, but he knew it would eventually be worth something, so he purchased the acreage to start the ranch.”
He started with a breed known as Scrub cattle or Florida cracker cows, which at maturity, only weigh approximately 500 pounds. “Scrub cattle are a descendant of the original cattle the Spanish settlers brought with them when they built St. Augustine, Fla., in the early 1500s,” notes Mike. “Many people don’t realize, but Florida has had cattle here for a long, long time, but these particular Scrub cattle were not very big or suitable for production.”
A progressive man by nature, Alto Sr. introduced the Brahman cattle, crossing the breed with the Scrub cattle. “This led to cattle that weighed at least 1,000 pounds, which was a huge jump in size,” recounts Mike.
Alto Sr. was an attorney; he even served on the Florida Supreme Court, and it was his vision to hold the ranch together. After World War II, Alto Lee Adams Jr. “Bud” returned to Florida and helped his father build the family legacy.
“It was Bud’s passion and determination to maintain and expand the focus on ranching,” reveals Mike. “In the late 1940s Bud introduced the Brahman cows to Hereford bulls, focusing on each breed’s quality characteristics to make the meat more suitable for the American meat market. This led to the foundation heard of the Braford breed, which was the first east of the Mississippi.”
Bud’s Braford breed was recognized by the USDA in 1969 and quickly became the focus, pride and joy of Adams Ranch. The ranch’s Braford herd became the No. 1 foundation herd for both the International Bradford Association and its successor, the United Braford Breeders. “Brafords are really bred for the hot, humid climate we have in Florida and they adapt well to other areas in the southeast,” explains Mike.
Progressively, the third generation of family ranchers began to join the business, including Alto Lee Adams III, Mike Adams and Rob Adams. By the 1990s a composite breeding program was underway that led to the ABEEF cattle, providing some of the most high-quality, heat-tolerant animals in the southeast.
“The ABEEF composite was created by utilizing our heat-adapted Brafords and adding Red Angus for marbling and Gelbvieh for muscling,” Mike explains. “This composite breed meets the American meat market standards very well and filled the niche. That’s been our focus ever since and one of the things that sets us apart from other ranchers.”
A big name in an even bigger industry
As one of the first states to raise cattle in U.S. history, Mike says the Florida beef industry is still thriving today. “There’s at least six or seven of the top 20 cow-calf ranches in the country in Florida,” he reveals. Adams Ranch is a major player in the market. “We have 25 full-time employees and we manage approximately 50,000 acres,” continues Mike.
Adams Ranch continues to compete with some of the industry’s best through superior breeding and creative breeding stock solutions. “One thing that sets us apart is we also sell breeding stock as replacement heifers and bulls for herds from Florida to all over the Gulf Coast,” explains Mike.
Keeping it close to home
While most of Adams Ranch’s stock is currently shipped out of state, Mike says the company is working toward a goal of keeping more beef processing and distribution at home in Florida with the new Adams Brand Natural Beef product.
“Most of our steers go to feed lots in the Texas panhandle or Kansas where it is usually sold as a generic product,” he details. However, Mike explains that the company is currently focused on developing its own brand and seeing if the team is able to work it into a Florida processing program.
“In a way, Florida is at a disadvantage, because the big processors are out in the Midwest or Texas,” continues Mike. “Our goal is to develop a finish market here; it’s just a matter of putting all of the pieces together. Everyone knows we consume more beef in Florida than we raise; so if we keep it here by processing and selling it here, it works out better transportation wise and from a sustainability standpoint.”
According to Mike, keeping it closer to the end consumer makes sense and he’s seen a shift in the market as consumers search more locally produced items. “The market is there,” he assures. “It’s just a matter of making the economics work for us.”
While Adams Brand Natural Beef is still in its infancy, Mike hopes to have the product available sometime in spring 2015. “We already have many local people interested in buying our beef,” says Mike. “There’s never-ending change in this industry; people’s tastes and preferences don’t always stay the same, so we have to be cognizant of what the consumer wants at the end of the day.”
A family foundation
Consumer preferences certainly change and so does the economic climate, as Adams Ranch has learned over the course of its 77-year history. “The recession presented challenges for us,” recounts Mike. “Through 2005 and 2006 our land prices went from $2,500 per acre up to nearly $10,000 per acre through the housing bubble. Around the same time, we had two hurricanes pass through the area causing quite a bit of property damage.”
After nearly eight decades in the business, Mike says Adams Ranch has seen worse and is in good hands for the future as fourth-generation members of the Adams family step in to assume ownership and direction of the company. “My niece, Lee Ann Adams Simmons; my son, Zach Adams; and my two nephews, Alto John Adams and Stewart Adams, are keeping the fourth generation well-represented in the company,” Mike says proudly.
For Mike, at the end of the day, family is why he’s in this business. “It’s what gets you up in the morning and it makes for a meaningful life to work with family; we are very blessed,” he shares.
For 77 years, a family foundation has kept Adams Ranch going strong and steady as a major player in calf-cow production in the southeast.