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USDA Agriculture Census shares the data of north central Florida farms

Kevin Lussier kisses a dairy cow at Hawthorne Creek Creamery. (Courtesy of Kevin Lussier)
Kevin Lussier kisses a dairy cow at Hawthorne Creek Creamery. (Courtesy of Kevin Lussier)

Kevin Lussier is a 29-year-old fifth generation dairy farmer. His farm, Hawthorne Creek Creamery, specializes in aged raw milk cheese sold locally in grocery stores and at farmers markets. Lussier grew up on the family farm, and has loved it from a young age.

“Cheese making is just as much science as it is an art form,” he said.

But as much as he loves farming, he recognizes there are some challenges associated with entering the industry.

“You've got constraints for young farmers getting into the business, market economies that don't make it equitable for a farmer to make a living,” he said. “Land value, especially in the state of Florida, has skyrocketed. So you're seeing farmers who have worked their whole life that don't have the next generation coming behind them that are cashing out.”

Kevin and Shelby Lussier pose in front of racks of cheese at Hawthorne Creek Creamery. (Courtesy of Kevin Lussier)
Kevin and Shelby Lussier pose in front of racks of cheese at Hawthorne Creek Creamery. (Courtesy of Kevin Lussier)

Lussier said the industry also deals with a lot of misinformation, and he thinks this may be due to the separation of consumers from the farming process.

“Take 1950, for example. If you lived in New York City, you probably still had an uncle or a grandfather or your parents that farmed, so you weren't far away from it. Now, we're seeing generations that don't know a farmer, that have never met a farmer, that never stepped foot on a farm,” Lussier said. “There's a lot of folks that don't necessarily understand exactly what goes into a farm every day.”

But he said the COVID-19 pandemic brought people’s attention back to locally-produced farm goods.

“Especially after COVID happened, the amount of folks that sought local farms to buy local products was incredible,” he said. “I think it was the response from your grocery store. I don't know if you remember during those times, but a lot of folks walked into grocery stores and there was nothing on the shelves.”

Last month, the USDA released its data from the 2022 Agriculture Census. This nationwide survey attempted to gather demographic and statistical information about farms across the country, broken down by county.

In its findings, both the number of farms and total acreage of farms nationwide decreased between the previous census in 2017 and 2022, by 7% and 2% respectively.

However, Alachua County’s numbers have increased. Total farms in the county were up 6% and acreage was up 11%.

Data from USDA Agriculture Census. (Kristin Moorehead/WUFT News)
Data from USDA Agriculture Census. (Kristin Moorehead/WUFT News)
Data from the USDA Agriculture Census. (Kristin Moorehead/WUFT News)
Data from the USDA Agriculture Census. (Kristin Moorehead/WUFT News)

But Kevin Korus, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension agent in Alachua County, said those numbers can be deceiving. He said the increase in the number of farms may be because of the county’s agriculture property tax exemption program.

“There are a lot of people who simply have, I don't know, 20 acres of land or 5 acres, even, and it's just grass and they lease it out for someone to come in and cut it for hay every year,” Korus said. “And so that will be registered as a farm.”

Large-scale crop farms, like soybeans, peanuts and corn, he said, are slowly disappearing from the county.

“The per-acre cost of corn right now is more than the price per bushel that they're getting back. So you'll basically end up losing money if you put corn in the ground this year,” Korus said.

The barriers to enter farming are especially difficult for young people to overcome.

“There's not a lot of younger people who are willing to work as hard as it takes to be a grower,” Korus said. “You don't clock in hours. You get up when the sun comes up and you work well past it until the things that you need to get done are done. And it's 24/7. It is super, super, super hard work and it's stressful.”

Laura Goss agrees. She’s the Executive Director for the Florida Peanut Federation.

“I heard a man say one time that if you weren't born into farming or married into farming, there's really no easy entry,” she said. “And I think that's the incredibly true and disheartening statement.”

Goss said Levy County is uniquely situated for peanut farming, with perfect soil and climate conditions to support the crop. But consolidation in the industry is pushing out smaller farms.

"If the farm is not of many multiple thousand acres size, it's really difficult to be competitive with all of those costs and expenditures,” she said.

Still, Goss said, peanut farmers in Levy County are constantly innovating new techniques and technologies to produce bigger and better yields.

Mark Warren, an IFAS extension agent for Levy County, said the number of young farmers in Levy is actually larger than most places nationally. He contributes this to the county’s strong farming culture.

“The kids that have grown up with it. I don't know, there's some pride that's taken in maintaining that ownership, maintaining that family farm, bringing it to another generation,” Warren said.

The younger generation has taken the challenges head on.

“They've embraced it. Matter of fact, they become a part of the decision making process. They are active in their Farm Bureau. They're active in advisory committees and that kind of thing,” he said. “I just feel like they're highly engaged.”

It’s hard to tell if the census data supports Warren’s observations.

In 2017, the USDA classified a “young producer” as anyone under 35 years old. In 2022, that number decreased to 34 years old.

So between those years, the number of young producers in Levy County technically decreased by 18%, but that change could be because the number of people who qualified as a young producer decreased, not necessarily that there were fewer young people in the industry.

And Warren said the census data is only telling part of the story.

“This survey is an extensive document. I forget, last one I did was probably 40 pages. And it really digs deep into a lot of personal information,” he said. “Not only is it difficult to complete, sometimes it seems pretty invasive.”

Either way, he is optimistic about the future of farm work in Levy County.

“Our farmers seem to be very conscientious. They're pretty progressive in their thinking. They're willing to look at new ideas and new approaches to what they're doing. They'll look at them with a critical eye, which I think is highly valuable. They're a pretty sharp bunch,” Warren said.

And Lussier is also hopeful for Alachua County.

“When we see a census like that, the immediate answer is, you know, ‘Farming is dying,’ and that's not the case in a lot of areas. It's, you know, we're changing, we're adapting. But we're not going out of business,” he said. “The general consumer has got to wake up and see how important your local farmer is. And I know there's a lot of folks out there that care.”

The USDA says it will release more detailed county profiles later this month, which Warren said will be used by UF-IFAS offices to inform program changes and opportunities.

But Lussier said farming is “a way of life” for him and others in the business, and he thinks there’s plenty of opportunity ahead.

Kristin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing