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Stronach ups ante in Levy

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Buys over 2,300 acres from Andrews

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Austrian-Canadian auto parts and horse racing magnate who bought up large parcels of land in Levy County in 2010 and 2011 has just made another big buy: 2,342 acres from tree farmer and publisher A.D. “Andy” Andrews for $9,539,600.

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While this purchase on Feb. 28 is not billionaire Frank Stronach's biggest land buy in Levy County, it may make him one of the county's largest landowners. 

He already owned more than 29,000 acres in Levy County — about 18,000 acres purchased for $26.684 million by his Plum Springs LLC from Plum Creek Timber in 2011 and the rest in 2010 from Sleepy Creek Farm LLC. All are now merged with Sleepy Creek Farms.

He now owns 40,763 acres —more or less in Levy County — about 5.66 percent of the total 720,000 acres in the county and 8.404 percent of the 485,000 acres classified for agricultural uses. 

Since the sale, rumors have swirled about what would be done with the land, just as they did in the last big sale.  Ranch Manager Mike Rogers was not available for comment on Tuesday, but he said in a 2011 phone interview that plans called for all natural, grass-fed cattle to be raised on the land purchased between Bronson and Otter Creek, not organic cattle. 

"We will be a timber-cattle operation," Roberts said. "It will be 60 percent cattle and 40 percent timber."

To that end, wide swaths of the land previously purchased in Levy have been cleared of mature timber for pasture and cattle can be seen grazing on the property along U.S. Highway 27A and State Road 24 around Bronson. 

And the land purchased Feb. 28 is also being denuded of its timber, except the parcels with ornamental and landscaping trees. Those were part of Andrews' landscaping nursery operation and will be brought to maturity and marketed, according to one source. 

In Marion County, Sleepy Creek and Adena have purchased 25,000 acres of land in Marion County for horse farming, a cattle ranch and meat processing operation. He first purchased land for his thoroughbred program in 1996. 

Stronach's company has an application pending for a permit to use 5.3 million gallons of water per day in the 15,000 head cattle operation and meat processing facility near Fort McCoy in Marion County. It was first filed two years ago seeking 13.5 million gallons per day, but that was scaled back to the 5.3 million gpd. The application to St. John's Water Management District has run into opposition from environmentalists and other critics who say the withdrawal would be detrimental to nearby springs, including the famed Silver Springs, and area waterways, including Silver Springs River. 

Stronach's cattle operation in Levy is visible from U.S. Highway 27A and from State Road 24. 

But other plans may be afoot for some of the property purchased in 2011. 

Bill Hammond, Levy county building and development director, confirmed on Tuesday in a phone interview that a representative for Stronach's operations has inquired about establishing a swine farm and processing operation on more than 1,000 acres Sleepy Creek owns between County Road 343 and State Road 24. The land is adjacent to the old Levy County Forestry Work Camp that has been converted to the county's Department of Public Safety Center.

Hammond said a department employee spoke with Stronach's representative and said applications would have to be made to change the land use from its current forestry/rural residential to agriculture/rural residential and changes would have to be considered by the county Planning Board which would make a recommendation to the Levy County Commission. 

Any application for water use would have to go to the Southwest Florida Water Management District as the operation is south of State Road 24 which is one of the borders between SWFTMD and the Suwannee River Water Management District.

Hammond said the planning and development staff did not have any details on the swine operation.