Barthle Brothers Ranch wins an award for working to conserve land and provide a home to wildlife.

Decades of working the land and preserving the environment has earned central Pasco’s Barthle Brothers Ranch one of the state’s highest agricultural awards, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced Thursday.

State Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is scheduled to award the ranch the state’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award at a ceremony Monday in Orlando. The ranch is one of two Florida businesses to receive the award this year. The other winner was the Carlton 2×4 Ranch southeast of Sarasota.

“The Ag-Environmental Leadership Award program spotlights the environmentally innovative farming practices of our state’s growers and ranchers,” Bronson said in a news release.

The Barthle’s 8,000-acre ranch, north of State Road 52 near Ehren Cutoff, was selected by a panel that included the Nature Conservancy, the state’s water management districts, and forestry, citrus, dairy, cattlemen’s, and fish and wildlife agencies and associations.

“We’re very pleased, gratified to win this award,” rancher Larry Barthle said. “But we’re not the only ones doing this. Ranchers across the state, all of us, are involved in the environment. Cattle ranchers are the original environmentalists. If you’re taking care of your cattle, you’re taking care of the environment.”

Even in the face of Tampa’s northern suburban expansion, Barthle’s sister, Jan Dillard, said the family is committed to the land, and no one is interested in selling out to developers.

The ranch was founded in the 1930s by J.A. Barthle, and was carried on by his sons and now by his grandchildren.

Dillard said working the ranch is a family business that includes herself, Larry, Randy, Mark and Steve Barthle, sister Kathy Paige and their mother, Jeanette Barthle Sutton, a past president of the National Cattlewomen’s Association.

“It’s a part of our life,” Dillard said. “It’s what we do.”

The ranch is primarily dedicated to raising beef cattle, but it also includes a herd of quarter horses that are used not only for ranching but for rodeo events.

While raising the cattle, grasses grown for food led the ranch to grass seed and sod operations. The ranch also includes a timber farm that is home to a deer herd managed through a plan created with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and has remained home to endangered gopher tortoises, bald eagles and other animals native to Florida scrub land.

About the biggest environmental challenge facing the ranch has come in the past decade, Dillard said. During the period of drought, nearby governmental well drilling was blamed for draining many of the ranch’s wetlands and lakes. The ranch responded in the 1990s by using wells for the first time to provide water for the herd. Several of the wells are solar powered.

In honoring the Barthle ranch, the Department of Agriculture’s Walt Land said the family exemplifies the agriculture industry’s commitment to preservation.

“The Barthles have long been ambassadors for the agriculture industry,” Land wrote in announcing the award. “Barthle Brothers is more than a ranch, it’s a family. It is an example of Floridians maintaining their cultural heritage in cattle ranching while protecting the natural environment.”

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