Citrus greening may chase one of Florida’s largest landowners out of that industry.
“We’re going to shift out if it and transition, probably, to cattle production,” Erik Jacobsen, president of Deseret Ranches, said in a speech in Tallahassee Monday to the Economic Club of Florida.
Deseret, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, owns 295,000 acres in Orange, Osceola, and Brevard counties. Since the early 1950s, the company has focused on raising beef cattle there as part of its international operations.
But it has 1,600 acres in citrus — enough to produce 20 million glasses of orange juice per year, Jacobsen said. All that’s threatened by greening, a blight blamed on a bacterium.
“It’s a tough business right now, and there’s I think there is going to have to be new thinking in the industry to move forward,” Jacobsen said.
Deseret has undertaken careful planning to protect against suburban sprawl in Central Florida, where the population is projected to increase by 65 percent by 2050, he said.
The company’s 50-year plan includes a 24,000-acre Sunbridge development in southeastern Orange County, but also sets aside transportation corridors, and agricultural and conservation easements.
The state and local governments both have signed off.
“It became obvious to us that if we didn’t put in a framework to protect the ranch, it was just going to be nickeled and dimed and nibbled around the edges for the next 50 years,” Jacobsen said.
“With the pressure of the growth in the area, we felt like if we didn’t do some planning, somebody else was going to plan it for us.”
Regarding Deseret’s 2014 acquisition of 380,000 acres in the Florida Panhandle from The St. Joe Co., the plan is to keep much of the land in timber but begin running cattle.
As for all the excitement on Nov. 8, Jacobsen said the church and its businesses generally don’t comment on politics. He did allow that he hopes to catch a break on clean water regulation enforcement.
“It would help if some of the regulatory pressure is eased a bit,” he said.