Florida pride: Mickey Mouse, Miami and milk

When someone mentions Florida, what are some of the first phrases that come to your mind? Beaches? Alligators? Sunshine? Disney World?

That makes a lot of sense, as tourism is Florida's number one industry. But agriculture comes second, with citrus fruit like oranges and tangerines making Florida famous for produce. In fact, Florida produced 74 percent of U.S. oranges and 58 percent of the tangerines in 2006. (Source)

And while you may not think of the Sunshine State as a dairy state, Florida is the highest milk producing area of the southeast region, ranking 19th in overall nationwide milk production in 2008.

The Florida dairy industry is home to 140 dairy farming families and 123,000 cows. The Dairy Council of Florida and Dairy Farms, Inc. (www.floridamilk.com) is a great resource for all things dairy.

The site features links to two of those 140 farming families: the Dakin family and the Henderson family at Shenandoah Dairy.

(Source for photo on right.)

The Dakins have a long history of dairying, spanning more than a century and three generations. Romanus (Pete) Dakin began with a small herd of 16 cows in Livermore, Maine. After moving his family to Florida in the 1960s, Pete switched from dairy farming to chicken farming.

He decided to get back in the dairy business in the 70s, and his sons -- Cameron, Farren, Rodney and Jerry -- followed in his footsteps. Today, the Dakin clan milks 5,000 Holsteins on the last three remaining dairy farms in Manatee County.

Shenandoah Dairy is located about 250 miles north of the Dakins. Jim and Carol Henderson and their family got their start in 1987 with 100 cows. Today, 2,100 cows are milked three times a day, and 57 employees contribute to the management of the cattle, crops and facilities.

Like many Florida dairy farmers, the Hendersons make an extra effort to educate neighbors and consumers about ag nutrient management practices on their operation. The state has a strong commitment to renewable energy and environmental responsibility, as do the Hendersons. They use a sand separator to manage the waste. Manure solids are used as fertilizer for the crops, while the recycled water is used both in flushing the lanes of the freestall barns and for irrigation

Another Florida dairyman who knows about environmental responsibility is Red Larson in the Okeechobee area of southern Florida. In order to comply with strict regulations, each of Larson's three dairies has a three-stage lagoon, and is similar to Shenandoah Dairy in that recycled water is used both for flushing barns and irrigating fields.

Read more about Larson Dairy in this 2009 article by Editor Karen Lee. The article was one of Progressive Dairyman's Top 25 Most Read articles of 2009.

In addition to their "green" efforts, Florida dairy producers have been actively involved in efforts to raise nutrition awareness among children and teenagers. The Dairy Council of Florida is making strides in Fuel Up to Play 60, a partnership between the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, which aims to motivate entire schools through proper eating habits, regular exercise and healthy attitudes.

As part of Fuel Up to Play 60, the Dairy Council of Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneer cheerleaders helped make Smile Mile a success. The one-mile children's race for school students between the ages of 5 and 11 was held February 13, and Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black spoke to the children about the importance of forming healthy habits at a young age. Check out photos from the event here.

After learning a little more about Florida's dairy industry, consider some new phrases to add to your mental vocabulary list: 140 dairy farming families. Environmental responsibility. Nutrition awareness.

And while milk production may still not rank first, just remember that the cream for those Mickey Mouse ice cream bars have to come from somewhere. It's a small world, after all.


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