On Thursday August 21, 2014, twelve Innovative Farmers and Ranchers were recognized by University of Florida IFAS Extension and Farm Credit of Northwest Florida at the Jefferson County Opera House, in Monticello. This is the fourth year these two organizations have teamed up to honor a selection of the most innovative farmers from the Florida Panhandle.
The purpose of the Agriculture Innovator Recognition Program is to annually recognize innovative farmers and ranchers from 16 Florida Panhandle counties, from Jefferson west to Escambia County. In 2014, County Agriculture Extension Agents selected 12 Agricultural Innovators to be recognized.
All of the county honorees have distinguished themselves as creative thinkers and leaders in the agricultural community. This year George Fisher was honored as Agriculture Innovator by Washington County Extension . Read more about the G&S Farms below. The other Agricultural Innovators nominated this year will be featured in Panhandle Ag e-News over the coming weeks.
Submitted by Extension Agent: Mark Mauldin
G&S Farms is operated by George and Stacey Fisher and their children, Vannessa, Michael, and Matt. The operation began with George’s father; in 2000 George began farming full time. Even before then, George was looking for ways to maximize the value of the cattle that he was marketing. Seeking out high value niche markets and producing cattle to take advantage of these markets has helped keep G&S Farms financially viable even when “regular” calf prices were low.
The operation began in 1976 with Limousin seedstock production. Since that point the Fishers have produced quality Limousin cattle. Their breeding stock has been sold to cow-calf operators as far away as Missouri. In addition to selling breeding animals the Fishers also marketed their Limousin cattle through Laura’s Lean Beef. This allowed calves not sold as breeding stock to still be marketed at a premium. After some years it was no longer feasible to market calves through Laura’s Lean Beef, but the experience of doing so is what pulled George toward niche markets, especially the lean beef niche market.
A desire to capitalize on the lean beef niche is what lead George to Parthenais cattle, which are known for very lean and tender meat, and ultimately to the formation of Arrowhead Beef. Arrowhead Beef is the company George and a business associate cofounded. Arrowhead markets premium grass-fed, lean beef. All of the beef marketed through Arrowhead comes from cattle that originated in G&S Farm’s full blood Parthenais herd or from cooperator herds that are based on G&S Farm’s Parthenais genetics. The cattle marketed through Arrowhead are raised on an entirely forage-based diet.
After the Parthenais cattle have reached market weight they are processed locally at Westville Meats, a USDA inspected processing facility owned by George and his business associate. The finished Arrowhead Beef products are distributed out of Westville Meats. In the winter months large amounts of beef are sold through various ambassadors in Green Markets throughout South Florida. As the weather warms, demand shifts to the Green Markets along the Emerald Coast so supply is reallocated to ambassadors in this part of the state. Additionally, internet orders from across the county are filled throughout the year. Not only has Arrowhead Beef identified and entered a high value niche market, it has become nearly completely vertically integrated in the process. Cattle are born, raised, fed, slaughtered, processed, and the subsequent beef is marketed all in the same local operation.
The success found in the lean beef niche led George to explore other high value niche markets. As a result, F-1 Angus Wagyu crosses are also produced on G&S Farms. Wagyu bulls are bred to Angus cows and the resulting progeny are marketed to Imperial Wagyu in Nebraska. The calves leave G&S Farms and go to Iowa where they are fed. After their time on feed the cattle are slaughtered and the exceptionally high quality meat produced is marketed through Imperial Wagyu. In addition to selling calves to Imperial, G&S Farms is also the Florida distributor for Imperial’s premium meat products. This arrangement is innovative in two ways: 1) George is able to market calves to Imperial well above average market price for Florida calves 2) George’s willingness and ability to handle the finished meat products allow him the opportunity to capture the profit margin associated with multiple steps of the production/marketing chain.
A significant portion of George’s operation revolves around the production and conservation of forages. In addition to perennial pastures, there are several varieties of forage crops produced on G&S Farms. These forages are grazed or conserved as hay or round bale silage. In addition to conserving enough forage to feed his herds, George also does custom hay and round bale silage work for other cattlemen in the area and produces horse quality square baled hay that he markets through a local retailer.
In addition to managing three distinctly different herds of cattle, marketing product in two completely opposite segments of the beef industry, and operating a hay and round bale silage business, George is currently following market demand for locally raised meat, moving towards marketing a full line of Florida raised meats. Westville Meats is processing and/or retailing Florida raised cattle (separate from those for Arrowhead Beef), chickens, and hogs.
G&S Farms shows a great deal of innovation in its ability to see what kind of products the consumers want and what characteristics associated with those products command a premium price. Beyond that, G&S Farms is innovative enough to undertake new production methods and practices in order to produce the aforementioned products. Perhaps more than in any other area, G&S Farms shows innovation in the marketing of their cattle. When the standard practice for cattle producers in the area is to sell calves at a livestock market for “whatever I can get for ‘em” the innovation in their marketing cannot be overstated.
G&S Farms has worked with UF/IFAS Extension a great number of years. George is a member of the Washington County Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Committee. He is also on the UF/IFAS Bull Test Committee. For years, the Fisher family has worked closely with extension personnel in the planning and facilitating of the Washington County Youth Fair. George has also helped train numerous 4-H Livestock Judging teams by sharing his knowledge of cattle and providing animals for team members to evaluate. G&S Farms has also been used by extension personnel for research trials.
The Fishers are very involved in their community especially in regards to advancing agriculture. George is the President of the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association, Vice President of Washington County Farm Bureau, and an active member of the Chipley FFA Alumni Association. Through their wide variety of enterprises, G&S Farms works in cooperation with many area farmers and ranchers. Whenever possible, business is conducted locally. George impacts agriculture beyond Washington County as well; he is a member of the Florida Beef Council and the Florida Farm Bureau Beef Advisory Board. Washington County is very fortunate to have producers as involved and innovative as G&S Farms.