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Tampa could prosper from restoring cattle trade with Cuba

Tampa could prosper from restoring cattle trade with Cuba [Tampa
Tribune, Fla.]

March 29–TAMPA — Before Tampa became “Cigar City,” it was a cattle
city, sustained by the profits local businessmen earned selling to Cuba
when the island nation’s herds fell into decline.

“The cattle industry was what bridged those early years with modern
times,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator at the Tampa Bay History
Center. “It provided Tampa with a source of income during very lean
years until the cigar industry arrived.”

Now, with Cuba’s cattle herds again in decline, some believe Tampa can
prosper from rebuilding it.

It’s a topic ripe for discussion 6 p.m. Wednesday when the history
center hosts a panel discussion, “Florida Cattle Ranching: Past, Present
and Future.”

Moderated by Kite-Powell, the panel will include Florida ranchers Jay
Starkey Jr. of Starkey Ranch, Willie Johns from the Seminole Tribe of
Florida, Cary Lightsey of Lightsey Cattle Co., Charles P. Lykes Jr. of
Lykes Bros Inc., and Robert Thomas of Two Rivers Ranch.

Reservations are required, at tampabayhistorycenter.org.

Florida has 1.7 million head of cattle, ranking it 16th in the nation,
the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

“When most people think of cattle they only think of the west,” said
Dusty Holley, director of field services at Florida Cattlemen’s
Association. “Florida usually ranks in the top nine to 11 in the
cow-calf industry.”

This industry raises calves until they are 8 months old then sells them
out-of-state, to ranches or processors.

“We aren’t just selling them locally and having the same money circle
around the state,” Holley said. “Florida’s cattle industry brings in new
money from out of state.”

Eight of the largest cow-calf operations in the U.S. are in Florida,
compared to four in Texas, the top cattle state.

The total impact on the state’s economy from Florida livestock and dairy
operations is $6.2 billion, according to the Florida Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The department did not have specific numbers for the cattle industry,
but Holley places the figure in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

None of Florida’s cattle ranches are in the Tampa area, but Port Tampa
Bay is the closest deep water port to Havana, notes John Parke Wright,
who sells cattle semen to Cuba and is the grandson of H.T. Lykes, who
traded cattle to Cuba in the late 1870s.

Wright estimates Cuba, with a population of 11 million, has less than 2
million head of cattle — far less than the 6 million there in 1959 when
Fidel Castro rose to power and the population was 7 million.

A shortage of proper feed and farming equipment, a lack of ranching
knowhow and natural causes are to blame for the decline, Wright said.

Cattle, feed and farming supplies are commodities the U.S. can sell to
Cuba, he said, and Florida — whose calves are raised in a similar
climate — is in a unique position to sell there.

“They should then be shipped out of Tampa,” Wright said.

First, there are obstacles to overcome.

Port Tampa Bay has no regularly scheduled shipping to Cuba. And the
Cuban economy may not have the money to buy.

What;s more, Wright added, Cuba may not have the trained ranchers to
build up its herds again.

As is the case with all U.S. businesses, ranchers cannot set up
operations because federal government prohibitions remain in place.

Still, Wright is optimistic.

“I think in time Tampa and Florida will again become Cuba’s best friend.
And when that happens cattle will be at the forefront of the business
relationship.”

If so, it would be a case of history repeating itself.

The North American cattle industry wasn’t born out west.

It started on land that would become Florida, said Kite-Powell of the
history center, when Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon brought cattle here
1521.

By the 1700s, the Spaniards had established some 34 ranches throughout
the state with 20,000 head of cattle, most historians agree.

In the early 1800s, Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. and with it, the cattle.

There were some ranches in the Tampa area, Kite-Powell said, but the
biggest were in other parts of Florida.
Still, Tampa offered a close sail to Cuba.

“Some businessmen were savvy enough to see money in this,” he said.

One was ship owner James McKay, “who made quite a fortune through the
cattle sales to Cuba,” Kite-Powell said.

McKay’s big break came in the 1870s when Cuba’s Ten Years War with Spain
shrank the cattle herds there.

McKay bought cattle from ranchers throughout Florida and shipped them to
Cuba.

Spain, which still ruled Cuba, paid in gold doubloons, cattleman Wright
said, and was charged up to eight times more than what cattle were
selling for in Florida.

“There were a lot of happy cattle ranchers in Florida,” Wright said.

In all, Cuba bought more than 100,000 head of cattle from Tampa businessmen.

Among them was the Lykes family, who owned a 500-acre cattle ranch in
Hernando County and later moved into the shipping business.

The Lykes family later bought a 15,000-acre cattle ranch in the eastern
Cuba province of Oriente, opened a slaughterhouse in Havana, and shipped
meat back to Tampa to be made into stew and sausage at a processing
plant on at 50th Street and Adamo Drive.

The port of Tampa was deepened to handle all the extra trade,
Kite-Powell said.

Soon, other commodities from throughout the state — citrus, phosphate
and bananas among them — were shipped from Tampa to Cuba and other
Caribbean destinations.

“Without the cattle, there is no way of knowing what Tampa’s economy
would have been like as it waited for the cigar industry,” said Kite-Powell

The first cigar factory was built in Tampa in 1886 by Vicente
Martinez-Ybor when he moved his operation from Key West to the area
later known as Ybor City.

At its peak, Tampa’s cigar industry employed more than 10,000 people in
more than 200 factories. They produced up to half a billion hand-rolled
cigars a year, primarily with Cuban tobacco shipped to the city through
the port that had been built on the cattle industry.

Still, cattle didn’t lead directly to cigars, Kite-Powell said.

“There were two different sets of individuals leading each,” he said.
“There was not really any crossover.”

Wright said that for Tampa, the cattle industry peaked in the 1920s and
1930s but remained prosperous through 1960, when President Dwight
Eisenhower banned exports to Cuba.

“Everything changed for Florida and Cuba on that day,” Wright said. “But
I am confident everything will change again — for the better.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

Source: World Stock Markets & Stock Index Performance – Businessweek –
http://www.bloomberg.com/research/markets/news/article.asp?docKey=600-201503291335KRTRIB__BUSNEWS_16077_20741-1&page=2

Source: World Stock Markets & Stock Index Performance – Businessweek –
http://www.bloomberg.com/research/markets/news/article.asp?docKey=600-201503291335KRTRIB__BUSNEWS_16077_20741-1

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