Agri Leader

Florida's dairy industry is filled with surprises

Dakin Dairy Farm in Myakka City will celebrate its reopening to the public for farm tours this Saturday, Oct. 5, with a blowout party, including tours, a 5K run, a mac and cheese cook-off, pony rides, music and plenty more. If you're a little more eco-focused, the event will also feature goat soap demonstrations (not sure what to make of that), Himalayan salt cooking demos, and a presence from groups like the Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota, Slow Food Greater Sarasota, and Manatee Cluck, the latter of which promotes backyard chickens. The event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., also celebrates Dakin's fifth year of offering farm tours. I don't usually associate dairy farms with big celebrations, so the publicity for the event got me thinking about the dairy farm business here in Florida. I once went on a tour of Dakin Dairy Farm and enjoyed learning how they keep the cows cool and comfortable during our hottest months and how environmentally conscious a farm like Dakin is. I also enjoy buying milk from local dairies like Dakin - both my son and I notice a fresher taste than what we get at the supermarket.
I decided to find out a little more about our state's dairy business. That led me to Aaron Wockenfuss, senior manager of communications for Florida Dairy Farms in Maitland. The trade association works with Florida's estimated 130 dairy farms. I asked him what people find most surprising about his industry. "First, people are surprised at how sustainable dairy farms are and how much technology goes into the farms," said Wockenfuss. "They think of farmers as country folks, but we have former attorneys and CPAs among our members." Next, people don't realize how sustainable dairy farms usually are, said Wockenfuss. Much of what the cows eat comes from other industries. For example, the cows consume dairy pulp not used during orange juice making. They also eat byproducts from the cotton and gin business, in addition to hay, grain and silage. "These would otherwise end up in landfills. The cows end up as nature's recycler," he said. I also know that Dakin cows are grass-fed, which supposedly gives the milk a better flavor. As I saw during my tour of Dakin, consumers are often surprised to learn the efforts that farmers make toward keeping cows comfortable. This includes fans, misters and special water bedding designed for cows. Cows even have their own nutritionists to target the right diet for them. Finally, Wockenfuss said that some activists like to give the impression that much of the dairy farming business (or for that matter, farming in general) is commercial when in fact, 98 percent of the country's dairy farms are family-owned and operated. Here are a few more fun facts about the Sunshine State's dairy farms, courtesy of Florida Dairy Farmers: 1. Moo..any guess on how many dairy cows there are in Florida? Answer: 122,000, and they produce about 272 million gallons of milk each year. Florida ranks 19th in the United States for its number of milk cows, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 2. Got milk? If you live in Okeechobee or Lafayette counties, you do. Those are the leading counties for the number of milk cows. 3. Each Florida dairy cow produces six to eight gallons of milk each day - or 18,600 pounds annually. 4. The milk we buy at the store was likely milked two to three days ago. 5. Most of Florida's dairy cows are Holstein - they are the black and white breed.