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Despite owner's intentions, some worry Manatee farm will be developed

Jerry Dakin says he will "do everything in (his) power" to keep Dakin Dairy Farms an agriculture property.

  • By Liz Ramos
  • | 5:00 a.m. December 11, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Well-known east Manatee County dairy farmer Jerry Dakin recently made a decision many other Florida farmers, from apple pickers to zucchini growers, has had to make: to sell the property. 

Dakin, 55, has operated Dakin Dairy Farms for 22 years, a two-decade cycle where it built a niche client base, sold wildly popular chocolate milk in a retail store and became a go-to spot for elementary school field trips. 

But there have also been gallons of challenges, from hurricanes to state and federal regulations to changing customer taste preferences, like almond milk.

In a statement, Dakin says he seeks to keep the farm a working dairy farm. He hopes to pass his knowledge onto the next generation of farmers and find a buyer who will keep the property in agriculture.

A former Florida Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year, Dakin says 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 says.

While Dakin looks and hopes for that kind of exit, many, in the Myakka community and especially on social media, worry the opposite will happen: a developer will buy the land, some 350 acres, and build houses there. Manatee County, like other counties in the region, has been grappling with a population surge that's led to an acute housing shortage. As such, homebuilders and developers are looking eastward for large tracts.

On Facebook alone, a Nov. 27 story in the East County Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer, on the farm hitting the market generated more than 450 comments within two days. An unscientific analysis of the survey found, in general, four themes: so sad; hope he doesn't sell to a developer or a builder; we don't need more homes out there; and best chocolate milk ever.

One comment in particular could speak for a large swath of people: "Please (pray) not to developers. Preserves only."

Sondra Dakin, who is married to Jerry Dakin's brother, fellow dairy farmer Cameron Dakin, says 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 says.

Cameron Dakin adds that if the "right people with the right vision" buy Dakin Dairy Farms and expand the milk plant, it could be successful. 

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

Jerry Dakin says the deaths of his brother Farren in 2020 and then his brother Rodney a year ago prompted him to start thinking about his future. “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 says. “What can I do so that the community will have farming in the county?”

Vision quest

Dakin Dairy Farm, at 30771 Betts Road, Myakka City, is 27.5 miles from downtown Bradenton, and the ride there on State Road 70 gets significantly rural as you go more east. Of course, it was even more rural 10 or 20 years ago, as development continues to move east. 

SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler in Lakeland is the listing agent for the property,which will be sold as a working farm. It includes 3,100 head of dairy cattle with a processing plant comprising the 350 acres. It has six free-stall barns, a milking parlor, production areas, commodity storage, silage storage and a milk processing plant capable of processing and packaging all milk produced on site.

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

SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler says "the owner is going to let the market determine the value/price."

Count Vicki Krone, co-owner of Silver Star East Restaurant, as one of those who laments not only the potential sale of the farm, which she calls a "great loss" to the community, but what might replace it — despite Jerry Dakin's hopes. 

“Myakka City is growing so much," she says. "There’s so much coming out here, but you hate to lose what made it Myakka City."

“We don’t need any more subdivisions out here,” Krone adds. “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.”

Sons come out

Cameron Dakin, meanwhile, also operates dairy farms in the region — two in Manatee and one in DeSoto County. He has no plans to get out of the business — yet. 

Cameron Dakin founded Cameron Dakin Dairy in Myakka City in 1979. When Cameron and Jerry's brother Farren Dakin died three years ago, Cameron Dakin and his sons 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, 70, says his family's farms will not be impacted by the sale of Dakin Dairy Farms, as they are separate operations. 

But he acknowledges the industry is getting tougher. As it is, Dakin Dairy Farms, Cameron Dakin Dairy and Boyz Ag are the only dairy farms in Manatee County and are among the 40 dairy farms in the state.

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 not too surprising, then, Cameron says it could be only a matter of time before he has to consider the future of his family's farms, too. 

"The only thing I'm looking forward to seeing is what the 2024 (federal) 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 says. "I'm going to start my exit plan."

Finding employees and expenses, from feed to equipment, are just some of the challenges. A new tractor that used to cost $60,000 now costs $150,000, he says. 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," he says. "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.

Sondra Dakin says 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 says. “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.”


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