He is a respected leader in much of Florida’s agriculture industry, but Al Bellotto will always be known as one of the state’s renowned cattlemen and citrus growers. Born February 15, 1925, in a Dundee, Florida, log house, Bellotto started his cattle herd at age 11. Working for 50 cents a day, he saved money to purchase his first calf for $20. After graduation from Haines City High School, he saw World War II action in the Navy aboard the battleship USS New York. Involved in some of the Pacific’s most heated battles, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa, his ship survived three hits from Kamikaze planes.
Returning from the war, he got back to the Florida cattle business. Today, he and his wife, Betty, manage a 3,700-acre cattle and citrus operation in Polk County.
Bellotto is perhaps best known for his 1985 fight to implement a Beef Checkoff Program in Florida, which would provide funding for beef advertising. Previous attempts to win rank-and-file approval for the program were unsuccessful. However, Bellotto canvassed the state, speaking one-to-one with cattlemen about the benefits of a mandatory tariff of $1 per head. Through Bellotto’s leadership and persistence, the checkoff program was overwhelmingly passed with the second-highest approval vote in the country. Today it remains an important component in the cattlemen’s arsenal of marketing tools.
A natural pioneer and innovator, Bellotto introduced freeze branding to Florida, which vastly improved legibility of the brands and is still in use today. He initiated the money-making concept of bull sales in the 1960s, which still ranks as the top fund-raising activity at the Polk County Youth Fair. He also started the use of double-deck cattle trailers to maximize hauling capacity and cut shipping costs.
As a strong proponent of conservation, he struck an agreement with a nearby citrus processor to pipe wastewater to his ranch to irrigate pastures. The unique arrangement cut his costs, reduced groundwater pumping and distributed wastewater over large areas, reducing concentrations of contaminants.
Bellotto is a vocal advocate for Florida agriculture and has served in a range of prestigious industry positions. He has been president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the Polk County Cattlemen’s Association, twice chairing Florida’s Beef Council. He has served as chairman and director on the boards of AgFirst Farm Credit Bank and Farm Credit of Central Florida. He was president of the Polk County Farm Bureau, where he served as a director for 25 years, and a trustee of the Florida Agricultural Museum. Bellotto is currently vice president of the Farm Credit Funding Corporation Board.
Al Bellotto lives in Lakeland with his wife, Betty, and their four children, Cher‚ Leah, Chris and Al Jr.