Clay Humphries

Whether he’s on horseback or behind the wheel, Clay Humphries loves working his family’s ranch and says agriculture needs a balanced voice that can bring various factions to mutual understanding for the good of the state. ELLEN GILLETTE


Don’t let Clay Humphries’ boyish good looks fool you. As manager of the Circle I Ranch in Port St. Lucie, the seventh-generation rancher who wants to take agriculture into the 21st century writes so well a teacher accused him of plagiarism and embodies the same pioneer spirit his ancestors brought to the region in 1878.

“Agriculture is dying,” Humphries says. “Young people aren’t getting involved. We don’t want to outsource all our food, especially to countries that aren’t regulated.”

One idea he’s working on is getting landowners to pledge sections for student use.

Humphries grew up on the Circle I, beginning ranch work when he was 6.

“There’s always tractor work, fence to mend, minerals to put out, grass to be measured,” he says.

While measuring grass doesn’t necessarily conjure up pictures of cowboys, good stewardship requires rotational grazing for optimal nutrition. “A good cattle rancher is only a great grass farmer.”

Humphries and his father, Fred, share the load, but periodically others help round up the 600 head for doctoring, branding and castrations, a pattern that he says encourages honesty, hard work and doing your fair share.

Ranching taught Humphries important lessons as a boy.

“My sister and I would be out in the pasture on the four-wheeler, and the engine might die,” he says. “A rattlesnake could appear out of nowhere. Those things teach problem-solving skills. You have to face things, not fear them.”

Humphries says one problem that needs solving is a future with “less land, and more people eating.” Humphries’ vision includes creating a small Florida cracker herd of cattle that will be more productive.

“We put three units on 10 acres now, but with this herd, we could do five,” he says. “Smaller animals, but more total tonnage.”

A student of Florida history, Humphries explains that Spaniards left behind a variety of breeds; only the strong survived. They had to be light enough to avoid getting bogged down in swamps and able to calve easily, withstand mosquitoes and resist disease.

“What we call yellow hammers made it,” he says. “They’ll eat almost everything, stay under 800 pounds, and are extremely hearty.”

Humphries is on the board of One Florida Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for, among other things, a statewide sustainable water policy. He works with local 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups and was honored as the 2015 Young Agriculturalist of the Year by the St. Lucie County Farm Bureau. Humphries also serves on its board, chairing the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, which supports 18- to 35-year-olds who want to be, or are, in the industry.

To that end, Humphries travels to Tallahassee and Washington to speak for agricultural interests.

“To be a true agriculturalist, you have to be a steward of the land,” he says. “You have to watch your water, because that affects how the land reacts. You can’t overgraze, or have too big a herd. A, it gives the industry a bad name, and B, you put yourself out of business.”

Aware that agriculture is often blamed for water problems, he wants to clear up misunderstandings.

“There’s a lot of twisted news,” Humphries says. “Agriculture is everywhere, and it helps us. If you’re not involved with agriculture, you’re not eating.”

The Circle I uses best management practices learned at state and county classes, including a solar water pump supplying five water troughs. Some BMPs will eventually be signed into law, he says.

“They help us be better stewards, build better businesses, and produce more profit,” he explains.

Diversification is another strategy.

“Today, people are here cutting sod, paying so much per pallet,” he says. “That conditions the fields for us and cuts down on maintenance.”

At one time, Humphries wanted to be a firefighter, working his off days at the ranch. An accident in 2011 on Carlton Road ended that dream.

“When you’re born into ranching, you grow up expecting disappointment from time to time,” he says.

His accident was that, to the nth degree.

When Humphries’ four-wheeler hit a guardrail, he went airborne as metal sliced through skin and muscle. Doctors gave him less than a 10 percent chance of survival.

“He was in the hospital three and half weeks,” his mother, Joanne, says. “A miracle and good doctors pulled him through.”

“And maybe a little stubbornness on my part,” adds Humphries, whose pectoral muscles had to be reattached to his skeleton. His jugular vein was nicked, his sternum was broken, his heart shifted, his lungs filled with blood. The sternocleidomastoid muscle, which enables head rotation, was severed. He required 13 surgeries.

“It was tough,” he says. “Even though I was grateful for a second chance, I was in a bad mood for a long time. I was 27, scarred, with a tube sticking out of my throat — I wondered if I’d be that way forever. I was afraid I’d never get used to people staring.”

At some po
int, his ranch-inspired, problem-solving skills kicked in. Having grown a beard to hide his scars, he shaved only the scarred side for a week, forcing himself to endure the stares.
“I got over the fear,” he says.

Today, he’s too busy to worry: working with nonprofits, cheering on his son’s baseball team, planning a new business for wedding and corporate venues at the ranch, helping grove owners find alternatives for their land, writing articles. He also has been approached about running for office.

Maybe in a few years. If he has time.


Age: 33
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Ranch manager, Circle I Ranch
Family: son Jaxen; works closely with parents, Fred and Joanne, and sister, Houston
Education: Fort Pierce Central, some college, lots of agriculture continuing ed classes
Hobby: “I’d like to get back to diving.”
Who inspires me: Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m sensitive.”