Marriott Alumni Magazine

Summer 2012

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“We’re making good progress toward our goals with the cattle,” Erik says. “We’ve been able to add value by taking our herds out of the commodity beef category and creating a completely traceable product. It is a big deal not only to control the quality but also to ensure food safety.” “We breed the herd so it can thrive in the heat, humidity, insects, and heavy rainfall of Florida’s subtropical climate,” Erik explains. “We also carefully monitor production for weight gain, feed efficiency, marbling, and tenderness.” The Florida herd utilizes the positive characteristics of Angus, Simmental, Red Poll, and South Devon combined with Brahman cattle. This hybrid is well adapted to the climate, produces some of the highest weaning weights in the industry, and delivers excellent-tasting beef. UNEARTHING PROSPECTS “Use it or lose it” is the refrain for water in Florida. Consequently, land owners in the state must demonstrate responsible stewardship over this valuable resource. And that’s where spuds come in. “We had worked with Frito-Lay in other places in the country and were looking for a new enterprise to utilize some of our water,” Erik says. “One of Frito-Lay’s plants is about forty-five minutes from the ranch, and we discovered we might be able to fill a gap in its production cycle.” Erik involved the company in the ranch’s strategic-planning sessions. With a guaranteed customer, the ranch moved into the potato business—installing drain tile and putting in high-efficiency overhead irrigation systems that deliver water to the crops during the dry season and take it off in the wet season. In addition to spuds, the ranch grows sod, harvests palms, mines fossilized seashells, and maintains an active wildlife-management program that involves some forty-three hunting clubs. GOOD NEIGHBORS But the land and animals aside, one of the biggest challenges of running this multi- faceted operation is dealing with people. More than 3.5 million Floridians live in the area immediately surrounding the ranch. For the past several years Erik has spent a big chunk of his time with lawyers, city officials, and planners. They’ve been working with the county on master planning a small portion of the ranch closest to Orlando and St. Cloud, Florida, for eventual development by other entities. “I spend more than a third of my time managing legal and planning issues,” he says. “That’s just part of running a modern ranch near a growing metropolitan area.” Renee has seen it before. “Erik is the most organized and self-disciplined man I’ve ever met. He can take a million pieces and put them together time and time again. It’s not easy being married to someone so disciplined,” Renee says, smiling. “His experience on the pig farm—acquiring permits, planning, and managing the controversy—has really paid off.” THE NEXT HORIZON “It would be really hard to leave,” Renee says. “That’s why we don’t think about it. This is a magical spot to live and raise a family. We love the people. There is a certain humility, grit, and genuineness that come from working on the land.” Erik says they’re in a good situation: “I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be right now, for me and my family. I don’t know what’s next. My goal is to do what I’m doing better than anyone else has ever done it before.” He’s modest when it comes to talking much about specific achievements on the ranch, instead focusing on what’s left to do. “We’re looking down the road, five, ten, fifty years,” he explains. “I think we’ll have the water rights secure, the master planning in a good place, and the citrus business a little stronger. I hope to be able to see all that through.” The landscape is almost ethereal. Spanish moss hangs from giant oaks. Stands of cypress, palmettos, and palms ring the horizon. Cows graze lazily on thick grass as a flock of waterfowl glides to its next feeding. “Sometimes I walk out in the morning, and the sun is coming up, and I’m on this beautiful piece of property, and I think, ‘Man, I sure am lucky to have this job.’”

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