Cattle grazing removes phosphorus from watershed

Posted 6/6/24

Leasing state land for cattle grazing provides income for the South Florida Water ...

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Cattle grazing removes phosphorus from watershed


WEST PALM BEACH – Leasing state land for cattle grazing provides income for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and helps reduce the nutrient load in the watershed.

At their June 6 meeting, the SFWMD Governing Board extended two cattle grazing leases in Glades County, on land within the footprint planned for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP).

Both leases allow only low-density cattle grazing and require the ranchers to follow Best Management Practices (BMPs) developed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Revenue from a five-year lease extension on 895 acres with C2 Ranch will generate approximately $30,000 per year.

A five-year lease extension on 558.9 acres in Glades County to Byron and Janet Storey will generate about $19,000 per year.

The leases can be terminated early by SFWMD if needed for construction of LOWRP components.  

Matt Pearce of Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the chair of Conservation Florida spoke in favor of extending the leases.

He said the grazing leases bring in some revenue to the district and defer the cost of managing the land.

“The last thing you want to do is let these lands go idle and be eat up with invasives,” he said.  “The lessees you have are good stewards of the land.”

He said the state bought these lands for use in future water management projects. Until project construction is ready to start, leasing the land for cattle grazing is an economic stimulus for the local area and saves the state the cost of management the land to control invasive plants.

In addition, cattle grazing removes excess phosphorus from the watershed, he continued.

“These calves that eat this grass, they are sold and taken out of the watershed and sent west,” he explained. “That phosphorus that is in the tissue of the forage is being uptaken by that calf.”

Pearce said about 5 pounds of phosphorus leaves the watershed with every calf sent to market.

While the land is under grazing lease it also provides some water storage capacity and habitat for wildlife.

In other projects, SFWMD pays contractors to remove phosphorus.  When land is used for cattle grazing “the lessee is paying the district to use the land and we’re exporting phosphorus,” he said.

Pearce encouraged SFWMD to look for other district land that could be leased for cattle grazing as a tool to manage invasive plants, remove phosphorus and generate revenue.

cattle, grazing, SFWMD