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Dakin Dairy ‘milking’ all of its attractions

MYAKKA CITY — The Moellers from St. Petersburg bought two gallons of Dakin Dairy Farms milk recently because their six children found it “richer, creamier and sweeter” than the milk they get at the grocery store.

That brought a smile to the face of dairy co-owner Karen Dakin, who had dreamed for years of having a Dakin “farm market” store on site where a family like the Moellers could buy a gallon of fresh milk that was bottled a few steps from where the cow was milked.

That dream became reality March 3 when the first plastic milk container was filled on the premises and sold in the farm market a few steps away.

The Dakin’s diversification from producer to producer/processer seems right on time because a report just released by the University of Florida states milk prices in Florida are expected to be historically low in 2009.

Due to the drop in demand for the more expensive milk products — ice cream, sour cream cheese, cottage cheese, butter and yogurt — Florida’s dairy farms can expect an average of $709,000 less in revenue per farm this year, according to the report.

The global economic crisis is causing shifts in supply and demand. So while the price of milk drops, the cost of production remains high, the “Florida Dairy Farm Situation in 2009” report states.

It’s not that people don’t want to drink milk as much as before, it’s that they aren’t going out to eat as much as before and restaurants are a very big customer of high-end milk products, Jerry Dakin said.

“Take cheese,” Jerry Dakin said. “Some pizza places have reduced the amount they are putting on pizzas because they have to make up the losses they are feeling with less people going out to dinner.”

This situation has led the Dakins to do what many farmers across the country are doing.

“We, farmers, are finding all the value we can in our farms,” Karen Dakin said.

Besides their 1,400 black and white cows, Jerry and Karen Dakin have the processing operation on their Betts Road site that allows them to produce a maximum of 12,300 plastic gallons of milk a day.

The couple is also making up for lost revenue by marketing their business as an “Educational Resource Farm” where kids can see cows being milked and even calves being born.

The Moellers were recently part of a multi-family agri-business tour of Pinellas County home-school families, like themselves.

“We learned how to make butter,” said Emily Moeller, 11.

The Dakins have marketed the tours, which cost $6 per person, by sending brochures to nearly every school in the region.

“Kids learn that milk doesn’t start out at the grocery store,” Karen Dakin said.

The Dakins hope to sell the milk they produce not only to families like the Moellers, but to grocery stores around the region.

Jerry’s brothers, Cameron and Ferren Dakin, also have dairy farms in Myakka City.

Their family goal is to one day produce 150,000 gallons a week from all three farms.

The Dakins sell their milk out of a refrigerator in the market store. They also sell 1,500 to 2,000 gallons a week to Sarasota’s Sutter Distribution, which supplies restaurants.

The Dakin milk sells for $2.99 a gallon — 10 to 20 cents more than at the supermarket.

In the next two weeks, customers visiting the farm, which is 16 miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 70, will be able to buy fat-free, 2 percent and chocolate milks.

Drinkable yogurt, quarts of milk and cheese, are all coming, the Dakins said.

The Dakin Farm Market is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“Tell your grocery that you want Dakin farm fresh milk,” Karen tells the customers on their way out as she tries to drum up support for getting the Dakin brand in local grocery stores, which hasn’t happened yet.

Getting their milk into stores other than their own is hard, the Dakins said.

Florida allows new dairy processing operations like the Dakins 13 days of expiration on their milk cartons.

The Dakins will gain two more days every six months.

But other supermarkets using established processors have milk with 21-day expirations.

“People choose by price and by longest expiration,” Jerry Dakin said.

The Dakins’ dairies are the only three remaining in Manatee County.

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