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Dairy business in Manatee County faces uncertain future

With Dakin Dairy for sale, Cameron Dakin Dairy might not be far behind.

Dakin Dairy Farms cows are mechanically milked. The farm is being sold and owner Jerry Dakin hopes the farm will remain in agriculture. It is one of the last dairy farms in Manatee County.
Dakin Dairy Farms cows are mechanically milked. The farm is being sold and owner Jerry Dakin hopes the farm will remain in agriculture. It is one of the last dairy farms in Manatee County.
File photo
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Although Dakin Dairy Farms is being sold, the Dakin name will continue in Manatee County's agricultural scene through Cameron Dakin and his family.

But the question is for how long?

Cameron Dakin — the brother of Jerry Dakin, who owns Dakin Dairy Farms — and his family own two dairy farms in Manatee County and three overall.

Cameron Dakin Dairy began in Myakka City in 1979. When Farren Dakin died, Cameron Dakin and his sons, Jason, Garrett, Grant and Ethan, took over that dairy, Boyz Ag (formerly Ferren Dakin Dairy) in Myakka City. Cameron Dakin Dairy and Boyz Ag in Myakka City are south of State Road 70 and west of Sugarbowl Road.

In 2012, Cameron Dakin and his sons bought Prairie Creek Dairy in DeSoto County.

Cameron Dakin said although his family's farms will not be impacted by the sale of Dakin Dairy Farms as they are separate operations, the industry is getting tougher.

He said it could be only a matter of time before he has to consider the future of his family's farms.

"The only thing I'm looking forward to seeing is what the 2024 Farm Bill might come up with, but if it doesn't change the language of marketing milk in Florida, my dairies are going to be going next," he said. "I'm going to start my exit plan."

He said the cost in feed and equipment has increased tremendously, and it's harder to find people to work on the farm. A new tractor that used to cost $60,000 now costs $150,000, he said. He used to spend $5 to $6 per day on feed for one cow. Now it's $8 to $10 per day.

Damages from hurricanes exacerbate the struggles Cameron Dakin and his family face.

"I don't ever want to see another hurricane, and I don't know if I'd rebuild if I did," Cameron Dakin said. "I'd probably just say, 'That's it,' unless the industry has made a turn for the better."

Collectively among the three farms, Cameron Dakin and his family own about 2,500 acres. Cameron Dakin Dairy has about 2,700 milking cows while Boyz Ag and Prairie Creek Dairy each have about 1,400.

Lakewood Ranch High School's Madyson Flores shows off her heifer, Emmy, with Cameron Dakin Dairy owners Cameron and Sondra Dakin, pictured with theirgrandson Reid Dakin. The Dakins lease cows to local 4-H and FFA students every year to show at the Manatee County Fair.
File photo

Sondra Dakin also leases cows and heifers to 4-H and FFA programs throughout Manatee County for students to show at the fair each year.

Sondra Dakin said her sons all have their own role within the dairy farms, and they will continue with the farms as long as possible.

“I just pray they can. Honestly, it depends a lot on what happens with the industry. … It’s a struggle to just make ends meet,” Sondra Dakin said. “We love the industry, and it’s something we want to do. It’s stressful, but I can’t see us doing anything else. For my husband, it has never been a day at work for him. He absolutely loves what he does. He’s going to be 71 years old and he’s out there six, seven days a week still working hard. It’s in their blood.”

Sondra Dakin said she admires Jerry Dakin for his determination to keep his property in agriculture.

“I’m just hoping and praying somebody has the same vision, loves it and can continue what he started,” she said.

Cameron Dakin said if the "right people with the right vision" buy Dakin Dairy Farms and expand the milk plant, it can be a win-win.

"There are smart people who know how to come in and turn things around in this industry," he said. "It could be a great venture, but somebody has to have a lot of nerve."

Jerry Dakin, who is 55, is selling Dakin Dairy Farms after 22 years in operation with hopes of passing his knowledge onto the next generation of farmers and finding a buyer who will keep the property in agriculture.

The deaths of his brother Farren Dakin two years ago and his brother Rodney Dakin a year ago prompted him to start thinking about his future, he said.

“I’m doing everything to make sure this (farm) is going to be here in 50 years when I’m passed and gone, that’s my biggest thing,” he said. “What can I do so that the community will have farming in the county?”

With Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City on the market, the Silver Star East Restaurant will be faced with buying milk and other dairy products from non-local sources unless a new dairy takes its place.

Vicki Krone, a co-owner of Silver Star East Restaurant, said the restaurant uses Dakin Dairy Farms products not only for their quality but also to support local businesses.

Once Dakin Dairy Farms is sold, Krone said the restaurant will have to go at least 14 miles to drive into Lakewood Ranch to buy dairy products.

The milk from Cameron Dakin's farms are sold to Borden Dairy and T.G. Lee Dairy in Orlando because there is not a processing plant on the farms. Dakin Dairy Farms has its own processing plant on property.

Krone said although she understands why Jerry Dakin is selling the farm, it’s disheartening. She said Dakin Dairy Farms brings people to Myakka City as the farm provides farm tours, sells products, and has a cafe.

With growth and development expanding more toward Myakka City, Krone said the sale of Dakin Dairy Farms is a "great loss."

Jerry Dakin, the owner of Dakin Dairy Farms, and Cameron Dakin, the owner of Cameron Dakin Dairy Farms, have owned their Myakka City farms for 22 years and 23 years respectively.
File photo

“It’s like losing a family member,” she said. “Myakka City is growing so much. There’s so much coming out here, but you hate to lose what made it Myakka City."

Krone said Myakka City is known for residents taking care of each other, and the Dakins always gave back to the community.

Dakin, a former Florida Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year, said he’s already had people interested in buying the farm, and many have expressed interest in him serving as a consultant.

“I’ll do everything in my power to keep it in agriculture,” he said.

Krone and other residents want to see the property remain in agriculture as well.

“We don’t need any more subdivisions out here,” Krone said. “That’s not something we need nor want. We need that clean, fresh air. We need a reprieve for the people in Sarasota. The sun doesn’t even hit the sidewalks anymore in Sarasota with all the tall buildings. We need to keep part of Florida as Florida.”

Although Jerry Dakin is selling Dakin Dairy Farms, he still plans to be involved in community outreach, including educating youth on the importance of agriculture. Dakin said he wants to be more involved in youth agricultural education and be a bolder advocate for agriculture.

Myakka City Elementary School fourth grader Avery Lawson takes care of a heifer Cameron Dakin Dairy has leased to the school. Cameron Dakin Dairy, Boyz Ag and Dakin Dairy Farms are the only remaining dairy farms in Manatee County.
Courtesy image

Carol Ricks, the principal of Myakka City Elementary School, said the sale of Dakin Dairy Farms is bittersweet. She said she’s thankful for all the farm has done for the school, including being a platinum sponsor of the school’s agriculture program and donating items such as chocolate milk and cheese for students to taste as part of a lesson on dairy.

Ricks looks forward to continuing a partnership with Cameron Dakin Dairy, which leases heifers to the school’s agriculture program so students can show them in the Manatee County Fair.

Cameron Dakin Dairy also provides an agriculture experience trailer that demonstrates how to milk a cow and provides other lessons.

Ricks said having local dairy farms available to provide resources to students helps them make a connection to what agriculture is and how it impacts the community.

“It’s so unique we are able to have that type of connection because if you had an ag program at any other district they wouldn’t be able to have access to dairy cows and dairy products fresh from the farm just by a phone call and it’s right down the road,” Ricks said.



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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