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Learn about the place that cattle call home

Go behind the gates where researchers gather data in an effort to produce tasty and tender beef in the most economical manner.

By BETH N. GRAY
Published May 22, 2007


BROOKSVILLE -- Drivers along U.S. 41 north of Brooksville can't miss the green-on-white sign trumpeting "Subtropical Agricultural Research" in large print.

Anyone who has ever wondered just what is going on beyond the sign at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service can find out on Friday as the center celebrates its 75th anniversary with a field day, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event will focus on the research station's impact on Florida agriculture, beef cattle breeding and genetics, embryo transfer technology, forage quality, water quality and the environment. Visitors will also get to hear brief presentations by several area notables.

Expected speakers are Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, presidents of the National Cattlemen's Association and Florida Cattlemen's Association, chairman of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, plus officials from the Agricultural Research Service.

"Come join us for a review ...of our current research projects and stay for a complimentary lunch," invites station director Sam Coleman.

Dignitaries will speak in the morning; scientific presentations are scheduled 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The research station was launched in 1932 with a gift of almost 2,100 acres of timber and pastureland from Col. and Mrs. Raymond Robins. Additional acreage was added over the years. The 3,800 acres on Chinsegut Hill recall the rolling hills of northern states.

The station employs 12 federal employees with the Agricultural Research Service and five senior technicians who are livestock managers with the University of Florida.

"We run about 600 mama cows and probably another hundred mature cattle," Coleman said. Calves move in and out each year, first to a sister station in Oklahoma, then to a Tyson meat packing facility to gather carcass information.

"We know everything about them from the time they're born until they hit the platter," Coleman said.

All that data aims at educated selective breeding and management to produce the tastiest, most tender beef in an efficient and least costly fashion.

Dotting the farm landscape are cattle of many colors: black Angus, tan Brahmans, brown Romosinuano, and their crosses.

The Romos, Coleman pointed out, are a subtropical breed native to Colombia, South America, and are of the same group as the Florida Cracker and Texas Longhorn.

The Romos have tolerance for heat and other stresses, assets for living in Florida. "They're very productive when crossed with English cattle, like Angus." But they're lightly muscled and require more time to finish for market. "So, we're looking for other genes," Coleman said.

It's a lengthy process. "We started this seven years ago, and there are still 15 years to go," said Coleman, a graduate of the University of Tennessee who has directed the station since 1999.

The station is deep into research and management of a forage crop, the perennial peanut. "It's a relative of the peanut we eat, but instead of nuts it makes roots that come back year after year," the director said.

Its nutritional value is similar to the top-notch hay, alfalfa. Horse owners love it, he said. "But it takes a long time to establish, two to three years at minimum." So it hasn't caught on quite yet.

Another area of research focuses on the impact of beef cattle operations on water quality and the environment.

"We've found pretty much that nutrient loads, phosphorous and nitrogen, are pretty low. With good practices cattle don't appear to be a major contributor (to pollution)," Coleman said.

Fast Facts: If you go
What:
75th anniversary and field day at the USDA Subtropical Agricultural Research Station.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.
Where: 22271 Chinsegut Hill Road, off U.S. 41 north of Brooksville.
Reservations: By Wednesday for complimentary lunch, (352) 796-2930 or send e-mail to George.Lee@ars.usda.gov.