Kayla and Matt Gonzales are unicorns in the herd. They’re first-generation agriculturalists. Just the fact that a young couple with neither family farming history nor inherited land runs 300 commercial Brangus is reason enough for optimism about Florida farming’s future.
In addition to ranching, they’re leading. They’re doing so despite lacking another invaluable commodity for people establishing themselves as food producers—time.
In the last two years, Kayla and Matt have become parents and have another child on the way, they’ve changed jobs and they’ve taken out their first land leases. Matt estimates he’s driven 50,000 miles in a year for work. Kayla is enrolled in the Florida Cattlemen’s Association Leadership Academy.
They sometimes tend to their cows in the dark after finishing their day jobs, working by the illumination of their pickup truck’s headlights and handheld flashlights. The phone in the photo is not a prop. Matt was on a work call.
For them to lead the Florida Farm Bureau’s statewide Young Farmers & Ranchers, Matt as president and Kayla as a member of the executive board, is a lesson to all of us that everyone has time to lead.
They’ve reached across generations through their leadership. Producers who began farming before Kayla and Matt were born have benefited from the UF/IFAS Extension programming that the couple and their employers have organized, sponsored or hosted. UF/IFAS animal sciences faculty member Todd Thrift says Kayla was essential to the success of the beef quality assurance training at Quincey Cattle Company (where she worked until recently taking a job with Fenco Farms) that has improved the skills and management decisions of dozens of cattle professionals.
Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings says the support of Kayla and Matt, who works at Dairy Farmers of America) and supported Extension at his former employer, Sparr, has been important to the success of local Extension programming.
Kayla and Matt also lead by fostering next-generation agriculturalists. Kayla has spoken about careers in cattle numerous times to classes of her alma mater, the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. They’ve helped their employers hire and supervise UF/IFAS interns. Jennings said Kayla hosted visits by 4-Hers to the Quincey ranch so they could practice their judging on the animals.
Kayla and Matt also foster the future as supporters of research. UF/IFAS Professor Raluca Mateescu noted that Kayla’s understanding of research needs and her efficiency on the ranch contributed to the success of her team of more than 10 students who collected data from animals at Quincey Cattle Company for thermotolerance research.
The most important commodity that FFBF, FCA and UF/IFAS produce is leaders. We can’t create more hours in the day for Kayla and Matt, but by fostering their early-career development, we hope to have set them up for decades of leadership ahead.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).