Lynetta Usher Griner

Meet Lynetta

The Real Florida

Lynetta Usher Griner’s fourth-generation Usher Land and Timber company produces both cattle and wood, an unusual but complementary combination found only in the Sunshine State.

This story was first published in the July/Aug 2022 issue of Forest Landowner Magazine and written by Pete Williams, editor.

Family forestland tours typically do not include alligator sightings, hundreds of cows, a steak luncheon featuring beef that possibly came from the property, and an active logging operation conducted by the forest landowners’ staff. Then again, Lynetta Usher Griner’s business in Florida’s Levy County in the town of Chiefland is no ordinary undertaking.

Usher Land & Timber is a multi-faceted company, a fourth-generation, 35-employee business that includes 6,800 family-owned forested acres as well as a logging operation with three crews, 10 truck drivers, three mechanics, and four office employees. Lynetta’s husband, Ken, and their son, Korey, spend much of their time on the cattle side of the Usher endeavors, operating a cow-calf program at Usher Farm with a capacity of 1,000 cows and 2,500 calves.

The Usher business produces food, oxygen, and water between timber and cattle, a powerful combination that only can be found in Florida, which is home to five of the nation’s 10 largest cow/calf operations. Timber, not citrus, is the Sunshine State’s largest agricultural crop.

“People don’t realize what we have here in Florida,” says Lynetta, 66. “They think about tourism and theme parks and figure our number one agricultural commodity is citrus or maybe tomatoes. Most people have no idea and that’s great because I can educate them with a fresh slate. I don’t have to deal with misinformation.”

She does her part to inform, starting with a thorough company website with plenty of videos (, and getting heavily involved in the community and industry. A longtime board member of the Florida Forestry Association, she became the organization’s first female president in 2012. Former Governor Jeb Bush appointed her to the Florida Forever Advisory Council and since 2008 she has served as the agricultural appointee to the Acquisition and Restoration Council.

In 2013, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, named Lynetta the Florida Woman of the Year in Agriculture. In 2017, she participated in the Farmers’ Roundtable at the White House, discussing agricultural issues with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, along with 13 other producers from across the United States. She was the only representative of the timber industry. Back home, Griner serves on numerous committees and boards and writes op-eds for newspapers.

 “Most people who work in agriculture are busy all the time with their work and they don’t have the time to attend meetings and be a face of agriculture and forestry,” she says. “I’m very blessed that I work in a business where I have the employees and colleagues that afford me the time to do that. People need to hear the message of how important forestry is for Florida and the United States.”

The Usher business started when E.T. Usher Sr. began working in the turpentine world in North Florida in the early 1900s. His son, E.T. “Etter” Usher Jr., returned from World War II and in 1946 purchased a bobtail pulpwood truck, launching the logging operation that continues today. Etter and his wife, Helen, raised their three children Lynetta, Karen, and Tommy (Etter III) a mile and a half away from Chiefland, which is an hour west of Gainesville and a 35-minute drive to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We thought we lived in the boonies,” Lynetta says. “Our friends lived in town and had all of the newest toys and we never understood why our parents didn’t indulge us with those things. They were investing their money into things that we appreciate today.”

Things like land and cattle in Florida, as well as in Nebraska and Kansas. A gregarious, strong-willed personality, Etter served in the Florida Senate and on numerous boards but was most proud of his work as a logger, rancher, and landowner. In the 1970s, he had his checks printed with a tagline reading “the money that pays this check comes from the sale of Florida beef and timber. Buy and use more of these products.”

Etter planted pine around the office when his children were little, telling them it would one day send them to college. Instead, the trees lasted 60 years, harvested only recently. The Usher property is rich in family history, including an old home recently restored as a guest house. Etter owned a popular local swimming hole until liability issues became a concern. He sold it to the state in 1993 and it’s now Fanning Springs State Park.

Tommy Usher joined the family business after graduating from college and figured to succeed Etter before perishing in a boating accident in 1989. Lynetta, a University of Florida law school graduate who was working as an attorney, began working in the Usher family business. So did Ken, who previously owned a General Motors car dealership.

Etter died in 2015 at 88. Helen Usher passed the following year. These days, Lynetta spends some of her time sitting at the same desk where her mother handled the company’s books for years. Not that she sits much, a 5-foot-3 dynamo continuing her father’s level of involvement in community and industry affairs.

“She destroys a lot of myths about gender, about rural education, about rural intelligence,” says Ken Griner. “There’s a passion and energy behind everything she does.”

Eric Handley is driving his Chevy Silverado 1500 through Levy County, marveling at the state of the Florida timber industry but concerned about its future. As a forester for Usher Land & Timber since 2011, two years after graduating from Auburn, he’s never seen a market like this.

Chip and saw stumpage going for $50 a ton. Pulpwood for $18. An acre of 18-year-old slash pine that’s half chip and saw, half pulpwood yielding $6,000, more than twice the price of three years ago. Timber Mart-South reports that Florida is commanding the highest timber prices in the Southeast, and Handley has seen it up close.

These are the glory days to be a logger or forest landowner in the Sunshine State. Prices are high and nothing is wasted. Pine straw raking is popular in Levy County. There are even small “shaving” mills that take pulpwood and convert it into shavings for use at the many horse farms in nearby Ocala, as well as in South Florida. So trusted are Handley and his Usher colleagues as loggers that some repeat customer landowners do not employ consulting foresters, preferring to just deal with Usher directly. Handley essentially becomes their forester. Two years ago, Handley started an Usher division that specializes in post-harvest cleanup, site prep, and replanting.

But as Handley, 37, drives past acres and acres of forestland, he sees storm clouds on the horizon. Not literally on this sunny morning and not the clouds that will come in late summer when heavy rains make timber harvesting challenging. No, the bigger challenge is Florida’s No.1 industry: development.

The pandemic kick-started the long-depressed market for timber. An average of 1,000 people a day already were moving into Florida. With more people able to telecommute and work anywhere, the masses realized it made sense to relocate to a warm-weather place with no state income tax, a lower cost of living, and a governor who does not shut down schools and the economy.

In 2021, real estate prices soared more than 20 percent in Tampa and Orlando. Levy County is two hours from those markets, but it’s a manageable drive for people looking for weekend getaways of 20 to 40 acres.

“This is as close as they can drive and get that rural feeling,” says Handley, who the Griners affectionately call their second son. “These people aren’t looking for timberland, they want a manicured property. It’s blowing up our land prices and cutting our volume of timber.”

Land is selling for several thousand dollars an acre, which might sound like the high end of timberland prices until it’s considered that Florida acreage often is 50 percent wet, making it arguably twice that amount. Several weekend “landowners,” looking to clear their 20-acre sites, have called the Usher office asking if they’d be interested in removing a dozen oak trees off the property “for no charge.” Usher employees politely refer them to a local tree service.

Then there’s longleaf. Landowners interested in timber production generally shun the slow-growing, high-maintenance, endangered species-attracting pine species. Not people buying for recreation, who harvest slash and embrace the government incentives to plant longleaf.

“Longleaf is not financially feasible but so many people jump on it because it’s free,” says Handley, who had one client plant 800 acres in longleaf. “He didn’t care what kind of production he’d get. He just wanted to keep his tax exemption and hunt on it.”

We stop at an Usher logging operation where 500 acres of 18-year-old slash will be harvested. It’s the type of mid-rotation clearcut that would not have occurred before markets got hot. Though Usher owns 9,500 acres, including 6,800 acres of forestland, they’ve cut just 200 acres of their own property in the last seven years, but deliver 150 loads of timber per week from other landowners to mills in North Florida.

As we head back to Usher Farm, Handley shakes his head. It won’t be long before all of the property is divided into 20- and 40-acre parcels from Chiefland to Cedar Key, the popular fishing village along the Gulf of Mexico 35 miles to the southeast.

“Investing in timberland in Florida is not the highest and best use of land anymore, unfortunately,” Handley says, nodding at another soon-to-be harvested tract. “Especially not this stuff that’s high and dry.”

The Usher forestland presents some unusual photo opportunities, such as a gator lounging alongside a pond. When a Forest Landowner magazine editor asks where he might find some cows in front of pine plantation, Korey Griner, 35, volunteers to get on his horse and move the cows into position.

As a kid, Korey went on timber cruises but found the cattle side of the business more intriguing. Etter Usher was more of a hobbyist rancher, but “Cowboy Korey,” as he’s known in a children’s book about the Florida cattle industry, and Ken Griner expanded the operation into a significant undertaking. These days, the company participates in all aspects of the cattle business “from conception to consumption.” The cow/calf operation maintains 850 “momma cows” and has participated in the stocker industry, owning and growing 2,000 calves. Usher Land & Timber is part of a retail branded beef program called “Florida Cattle Ranchers,” a group of 13 Florida cattlemen and their families who came together to grow and market beef that’s fresh from Florida.

That means the delicious steaks we’re having for lunch came either from Usher cows or another Florida farm. We’re eating in a house on the farm built in recent years that hosts large family gatherings and educational groups, and includes a pavilion and overnight facilities that would make it perfect for leasing as a wedding venue, something the Griners have considered.

“Family” is a relative term for the Griners since it includes many longtime friends and their families. Lynetta and Ken move into the home during the winter months. A Black Friday “Thanksmas” gathering brings more than 80 to the house.

Sitting at a long table used for such events, Lynetta reflects on her family’s history and how it changed her career path. Though she was honored to become Florida Forestry’s first female president, she does not find it especially noteworthy or that she’s one of few women heading up a logging and forestland business in a predominately male world.

“Gender isn’t going to define anything other than your gender,” Griner says. “It’s not going to determine whether you’re a good leader, teacher, or landowner. I’m proud of becoming the first female president of a state association in its 90-year history, but I don’t feel like it was because I was a woman. I don’t make a big deal out of male or female. It’s what you bring to the table and what you’re capable of.”

On this afternoon, Ken prepares the steaks while Lynetta puts the side dishes together. Handley is on hand, along with Cowboy Korey and Karen Usher White, Lynetta’s sister. White points out that while she grew up living the typical outdoorsy Florida kid lifestyle of the time, future-lawyer Lynetta mostly stayed inside, her head buried in books.

Lynetta smiles and nods. Guilty as charged.

“You have to be willing to let go of your plans for your life so that you can live the life you’re meant to lead,” she says. “Here we are today doing what we really love and this is where we should have been the whole time.”