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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 03Jan02
By Kent Larsen
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Biggest Rancher in the East

ORLANDO, FLORIDA -- The December issue of Florida Trends, a local business magazine, takes an in depth look at the Deseret Ranch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest cattle ranch in the U.S. east of the Mississippi river. But while the Church has taken a low profile with the ranch, as it does all its private business operations, this article gives a surprising amount of detailed information about the ranch, its revenues and costs, and its history.

The ranch was the idea of Apostle Henry D. Moyle of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, who became convinced that Florida's climate was an ideal place to raise cattle after visiting the state in 1949. He pitched the idea of the ranch to the Church's First Presidency, and the Church purchased the first 54,000-acre tract of land for the ranch in 1950. Two years later a dozen Mormon families moved to the ranch from the west and started the long process of converting the then heavily wooded forests and wetlands into a ranch. Elder Moyle himself died at the ranch in 1963.

In subsequent years the Church purchased surrounding tracts, expanding the size of the ranch to 300,000 acres (about 470 square miles). Elder Moyle's belief that Florida's climate would be conducive to a cattle ranch also proved true. Between the climate, the latest cattle breeding techniques and the grasses perfected for central Florida, Deseret Ranch produces some of the heaviest weaning weight (nine month old) calves in the industry, averaging 546 pounds last year.

Despite the ranch's refusal to disclose financial information, the article contained enough information to get a picture of the ranch's finances. Calves are sold by weight, and Deseret Ranch produced 16 million pounds of calves last year, worth about $16 million. [Cattle prices have since slipped from $1 a pound to about 85 cents a pound, but were as low as 65 cents a pound three years ago.]

The article also indicates that the Ranch spends about 62 cents a pound to produce each pound sold. If correct, those figures would give the Ranch a profit last year of as much as $6 million (and of less than $500,000 three years ago). However, those figures may not include some of the overhead costs for the Ranch and its 80 employees.

Also affecting the financial picture is the Church's financial practices. On for-profit businesses like Deseret Ranch, the Church pays taxes, making it one of the largest taxpayers in Florida's Osceola County. Its profits are also reduced because, unlike most farms, the Church does not accept government subsidies. Both the policy to pay taxes despite its religious ownership and the decision not to accept subsidies are rooted in LDS teachings of self-reliance.

But despite these practices, Deseret Ranch remains one of the most profitable in the industry. University of Florida animal science professor emeritus Alvin C. Warnick credits this to the Church's long-term commitment to the ranch. He says the Church has spent many years and lots of money in 'ultra-sensitive genetics and breeding work.' "They have earned a reputation for calves that turn out good carcasses, grade well and do well in the feedlots," Warnick says. "Their buyers are repeat buyers from all over the country."

And the Church's long-term commitment extends to the employees it hires also. Many have bachelor's or master's degrees in animal science-related fields. General Manager Ferren Squires, for example, has a Master's degree in agricultural business from BYU. He is also a returned missionary who served in Japan, a former official at the Church's welfare headquarters in Salt Lake City, and is currently a member of the Cocoa Florida Stake Presidency.

The ranch doesn't just hire Mormons (its an equal-opportunity employer), but it also has a culture dominated by Mormon practices, as one might expect. The ranch buildings don't have coffee machines and alcohol is prohibited in the common areas. Single employees can't have overnight guests of the opposite sex and the ranch's swimming hole is closed on Sundays. But one non-Mormon employee, Kevin Mann, who has been with the ranch for five years, says that the environment has been good for his family (including a wife and two daughters). "You wonder if [the Mormon employees and management] are going to hound you, but they never have," says Mann. He adds that both the career opportunities and the community on the ranch are great, "The best side to it is that they're very family-oriented, so it's a great place to raise your kids even if you're not Mormon."

And the amenities for families make it very attractive. Employees children are hired for summer work and the Ranch sponsors a pay-for-grades program for kids on their school's honor roles. In addition to the swimming hole, kids can enjoy horseback riding and other outdoor activities.

The ranch's neighbors and local government have also been pleased with their relationships with Deseret Ranch. Osceola County Commissioner Chuck Dunnick says Deseret Ranch does keep a low profile, but is always professional when it interacts with others, "They've been very quiet over the years, but if they do want to talk about an issue, you know they're going to be highly professional and well-prepared," he says. "They're great neighbors. If you could pick your own neighbors, I'd definitely pick them."

Dunnick also says that the ranch has been very responsible to the environment. It has its own staff of wildlife biologists and a progressive wildlife-management plan. And where other farms have sold out to developers, the Church has maintained the ranch, despite its rising value. Florida Trend says local real estate experts estimate the value of the ranch land at $900 million, which apparently led the Church to consider a plan to develop 7,000 acres ten years ago. But after environmentalists expressed concern, the Church abandoned the plan.

Since then local environmentalists and the ranch have found themselves on the same side much of the time, fighting a plan to put a landfill next to the ranch and protecting one of the state's largest bird rookeries, which is located in the area. As Florida Trend observes, the Church's long-term plans are to keep the majority of the ranch agricultural, in keeping with the ranch's dual role. Like the rest of the Church's agricultural operations, the ranch serves a welfare function, providing a source of food in case of disaster.


The Church's Ranch
Florida Trend 1Dec01 B1
By Cynthia Barnett
The Mormon church runs one of the biggest and most profitable cattle operations in the U.S. on a 300,000-acre ranch covering parts of Orange, Brevard and Osceola counties.


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