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Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
LEON COUNTY, FLORIDA
LEON COUNTY, FLORIDA
MARCH 30, 1984
As presented to Dr. Peter Hildebrand and the
Farming Systems Research and Extension class
at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
J. A. Krebs
Toh Kee Mok
The following is a report of a sondeo conducted in
Leon County, Florida on March 10, 1984. The sondeo, which
was also a class requirement, was carried out at the request
of the Leon County Extension Service Director, Mr. Lawrence
Heitmeyer. Mr. Heitmeyer listed three objectives that he
wished to attain through conducting the survey. First, was
to get a better understanding of the nature of the farming
in the county. Second, was to help the County Extension
Service better serve the needs of the people. Thus, by
realizing the first objective, the second objective could be
attained. And third, was to determine the role that the in-
dividual members of the household, especially the women, played
in the farming operation or outside of it.
The survey team included eleven members from the class,
three Leon County Extension Agents, and a multi-county exten-
sion agent from northern Florida. The county was divided into
five regions. Five teams of three members each were formed,
with each team being assigned to a particular region. Farms
were randomly selected and the farmers were interviewed to
obtain information about their farming operation.
Before presenting the findings and recommendations,
a background of Leon County is given. Leon County is located
in the Florida Panhandle between 30040' to 30025' N latitude
and 84040' to 8400' W longitude. The Georgia state line
borders the county on the north. The major river of the
county, the Ochlocknee River, borders the county on the west.
The southern and eastern edges are bounded by Wakulla and
Jefferson counties respectively.
There are three main physiographic regions that the
county can be broken up into. The Northern Highlands, which
cover the northern half of the state; the Gulf Coastal Low-
lands, which cover the southern half of the county; and River
Valley Lowlands, which include the stream valleys of the
Ochlocknee and St. Marks Rivers. The main source of water
for the towns and communities is from underground wells that
are dug 100 to 300 feet into the limestone parent material.
Leon County is located in a warm humid climate. The
average annual rainfall is 57" (Table 1A). The wettest
months are from June to September. October and November are
the driest months. The average annual temperature is 680F.
The,months June to August are the hottest, averaging 810F.
From December to February, the coldest months, the temperature
averages 540F. The last spring frost occurs around February
26, and the first fall frost occurs around December 3. The
mean number of frost-free days between these dates is 280.
A brief history of the county helps to explain the
current situation. In ]823, the Tallahassee area was desig-
nated as the state capitol. Then in 1824, Leon County was
established with Tallahassee becoming the County Seat. In the
years following, cotton planters from other southern states
came to the area to establish their plantations. Then after
the Civil War, a depression forced the creation of a share-
cropping system. But lower agricultural prices near the turn
of the century forced many of the sharecroppers to sell their
land and move to the cities. The land was mostly bought up
by northern industries which reconverted thousands of acres
of cropped land into woodlands.
Today, 73% of Leon County is in woodland. Nine percent
is in cropland, eight percent in pastureland, and ten percent
is urban and other land uses. The state government owns 23%
of the 445,400 acres in the county. The majority of the
county's residents are urban dwellers (Table 2A), with 1970
data showing three urban residents for each rural inhabitant.
The total population of the county has increased from 51,590
in 1950 to 148,000 in 1980 (Table 3A), an increase of 188%.
The total number of rural residents showed a slight decrease
of 3.4% from 1950 to 1970. Of the total number of people
employed, 7.8% were employed on farms in 1950, and only 1% in
1970. Data on a number of other statistics is not included
(Table 2A). This is due to continual change in the definition
of a farm, thus data from different years is difficult to
correlate. It can be stated that the number of farms in the
county has been decreasing. There has also been a decrease
in the land in farms and in harvested cropland. A review of
the data reveals a decidedly urban county.
Although the following data is by no means a represen-
tative sample, it does reinforce the urban slant of the county.
From July 1981 to June 1982, the State Soil Testing Lab
received around 18,000 soil samples from residents around the
state. A total of 269 samples were sent in from Leon County
(Table 4A). Of these, 121 or 45% were from vegetable gardens.
20% were from lawns and ornamental plantings; 18% were from
pasture and forage land, and the rest included samples from
fruit orchards and land under grain production.
After the teams finished interviewing the farmers in
the county, they reviewed the information that was obtained.
In order to present the findings and recommendations, the next
section of the report is divided into two parts. The farm
operations in the county are separated into two categories
according to: a] If the farming operation is the sole source
of income, or; b] If there is a source of income outside of
the farm operation.
SOLE SOURCE OF INCOME
Those farming systems in which the farming operation
generates the sole source of family income have been divided
into two groups according to their apparent economic purpose;
profit oriented or subsistence.
Profit Oriented Farms
Those farm enterprises geared towards profit ranged
in size and technical sophistication. The smallest opera-
tion was a ten acre farm specializing in hydroponically grown
tomatoes, ornamental palms, sod and sheep. Two farms were
over 1000 acres. One of these, mono cropped corn and the
other had a cow calf and hay operation. Operations between
these extremes included a 100 acre tobacco and corn farm and
a 160 acre goldfish ranch, of which 120 acres were fresh
water ponds (Table 1C).
The level of education attained by these farmers was
generally unknown, however the farmer specializing in hydro-
ponic tomatoes had a B.S. in Horticulture. All of the farmers
Although primary motivation of these farmers was to
turn a profit with their operation, several were considering
getting out of farming becuase of low or lack of profits. For
instance, the corn and tobacco farmer, with a 30 year career
on his own land cited a negative profit margin as the main
reason for shutting down the operation. The tomato specialist
enjoyed substantial profits, but could not find adequately
educated labor to decrease the 7 days a week work load in his
high technology operation.
Several factors were recognized as possible constraints
on the profitability of these farming enterprises. Apparently
low market prices for farm products are ubiquitous. Fluctu-
ating weather patterns annually threatened non-irrigated corn
crops due to the low water storage capacity of the light sandy
soils. Although labor was not a recognized constraint with the
less technologically advanced operations such as the corn, hay
and cow calf enterprises, it was a definite constraint to the
long term viability and expansion of the hydroponic tomato
enterprise. The gold fish rancher was content and registered
no constraints or major problems.
Most of these farmers did not believe the county
extension service to be potentially useful to their activ-
ities. They included extension service pamphlets with maga-
zines and seed store literature as valuable sources of infor-
mation, but generally agreed that the extension service could
do little to alleviate their major problems (low prices and
bad weather). With increases in land prices due to urban
encroachment from Tallahassee and the age of most of these
farmers (5 of 6 were older than 55), expansion and even long
term viability was considered unlikely. Most of the farmers
considered their days in the field numbered. Efforts by
extension service to better serve the needs of this type of
farmer will probably eventually prove fruitless.
In contrast to the formally educated profit oriented
farmers, the three subsistence farmers interviewed were not
formally educated as such. Two of these farms were 20 acres
and the other was 40 acres. These farms had cow-calf, hogs,
vegetables, laying hens, corn, sugar cane and pine enterprises.
All of these farmers were elderly ( 60 years) and had spent
their entire life farming on or around the same area (Figure
The primary farming motivation for these men was subsistence
for themselves and their families. The major constraints to these
farming operations were lack of education and age. The cow calf
operator was 84 years old and suffered from arthritis and poor
vision. He had been forced to reduce and cease other farm oper-
ations (dairy cows, vegetables) due to inability to physically
manage them. He complained that even the small egg operation
he ran now presented problems due to hens laying eggs in places
inaccessible to him. .The 20 cows he ran presented few problems
and required little attention.
All of the farms appeared to be in a state of gradual over-
all depreciation. The 60 year old corn and hog farmer recently
had to take off farm work due to the inability to support his
family from farm activities alone. His corn average had been
declining for the previous four years because he was unable to
provide the cash necessary to purchase fertilizer for all the
acreage he had planted the year before. The county extension
agent had helped this farmer establish a small plot of cauliflower
and broccoli last year. All of both vegetables were easily
marketed locally. However, the farmer was very leary of expand-
ing his operation of these vegetables in the up coming season.
The apparent investment of time and some money into this new and
unfamiliar enterprise was more risk than the farmer wanted to
Because of their inability to read or write, these farmers
were limited in their ability to learn new or improved farming
methods without close extension service attention. Although
they knew who their extension agent was, we still noted a lack
of communication. The extension agent mentioned these farmers
were reluctant to assume farm loans for fear of default and
subsequent loss of their farm.
In all of these farm operations, the farmers were most
likely to be the last of the family to farm the land. One of
the farmers had no immediate family (or farm help) and the others
had no relatives interested in continuing the farm operations
following the farmers departure. As with the profit oriented
farmers, it appears these farms will also cease operations with
the current farmer. It appears this is the result of socioeconomic
pressures (urban encroachment, migration of children to off-farm
labor sources). Therefore farm disappearance cannot be appreci-\
ably retarded by an increase in extension services.
This category of farm operation includes those farms whose
proprietors receive income from sources off the farm. Most
interviewees pursue farming as a hobby or retirement supplement.
A smaller proportion find the farm an essential source of income.
Tables 1B and 2B summarize survey data for these three part-time
farm types: Retiree, Hobby and Income.
Retiree farms are those operations whose proprietors supple-
ment pension income with farm income. Hobby farms are those
operations which provide surplus income and enjoyment. Income
farms are those operations which provide income for essential
The number of activities on Hobby farms tended to be fewer
than the number of activities on Retiree or Income farms. This
stems from the smaller average size of Hobby farms as well as
from lessor dependence on farm income. It appears, in fact,
that dependence on farm income rather than farm size is the major
determinent of enterprise diversity. The average number of
enterprises on Income farms, for example, was about the same as
on Retiree farms even though Income farms, on the average, were
The majority of Retiree farmers received pensions as an
outside source of income. To the extent such income is fixed,
Retiree farms may be viewed as similar in function to Income
farms. Indeed, Retiree farms are diversified similar to Income
farms. Small family size, progressed age and developed savings
plans among other factors, however, likely reduce Retiree depend-
ence on farm income relative to Income farm dependence on such.
Consequently, there was a tendency for these farmers to not
readily identify problems in operation. Inputs seemed available
as were marketing structures and management time. It was theorized,
however, that this lack of concern was due to a tendency for
retirement age farmers to forgo known farm improvements because
of a reduced perceived value of future return on these investments.
Surveyors were concerned, nevertheless, that advanced age of those
interviewed might place a constraint on effective farm labor.
Presently many of these older aged farmers participate in recip-
rocal group labor.
Suburbanization was considered a possible pressure on these
farmers' fixed incomes; through increased population pressure
and land taxes. Suburban construction might in the future
increase the temptation to sell the farm to developers. This
further reduces incentive to invest in long term productive
Income farms differ from Retiree farms not only in size
and dependence on farm income, but also in that off-farm income
primarily comes through active employment rather than from past
employment. There is also a longer possible period of return on
investment in improvements. Not surprisingly, the major problem
identified by these farmers was insufficient time. The need to
work off the farm reduces on-farm management and creates a labor
shortage during planting, weeding, harvesting and marketing.
Several farmers indicated there was not time enough to take
produce to local Farmers' Markets. Much marketing was done
simply by sporadic phone request. Much of the produce appeared
to be for home consumption, thus releasing part of family income
from food expenditures. Still significant mention was made of
time limitations in marketing.
In terms of enterprises, time limits also constrained
income. For this reason, for example, one farmer said he had
to forego hog production.
Income farmers mentioned agronomic problems such as
nematodes, army worms, fire ants and thorn-type weeds.
Hobby farm proprietors obtain the majority of income
through off-farm employment. As such the farm does not represent
essential consumption as it would for Income farms. Any depend-
ence on Hobby farm income would rather be for enjoyment, surplus
income, a tax shelter, etc.... The majority of these farms
consequently have one to two enterprises, compared to two to
six enterprises on Retiree and Income farms. Despite their
limited dependence and size, however, several Hobby farmers did
identify problems. One farmer desired more time to add a crop.
Another proprietor, motivated by profit, clearly identified
difficulty in securing extension information on Christmas tree
growth. In terms of these farmers' specific goals, there was
desire for improvement. As a group, however, Hobby farmers
generally do not appear overly concerned about problems. Surveyors
observed, nonetheless, that agronomic and marketing problems of
Income farms might equally apply to Hobby farms.
Retiree, Hobby and Income farmers, although differing in
some respects, nevertheless exhibited common traits in terms of
specific enterprises and management practices. Some of the
farmers bought feed for their animals while others grew it on
their farms. Farmers bought potatoes, apples, corn or corn-
finisher to feed hogs. Others grew vegetables or corn right on
the farm. Chickens were fed with egg mash and bread bought at
the market. The farmers bought pellets and hay for the goats
and cattle. These animals were also fed with corn, greengrass
or pasture cultivated on the farms.
Gardens had various products. Vegetables planted were:
peas, broccoli, beans, cauliflower, okra, beets, carrots, corn,
strawberries, grapes, watermelons, sweet potatoes, turnip greens
and soybeans. These vegetables were usually produced for home
consumption. However, some fed them to hogs, gave them away for
social purposes or in exchange for vegetables they did not plant.
In larger enterprises, vegetables were also produced for sale.
Usually both men and women worked off-farm in the cases of
hobby and income farms. Sometimes men worked on the farm and
amanged larger gardens to produce for sale, while women worked
off-farm. The gardens for home consumption commonly ranged from
1/4 to 3/4 acres and were managed by women. Women were also
responsible for storing the vegetables either by canning and/or
Some farms also had trees. These were pecan trees, pears,
and plums. The prevalent type planted was pecan.
Considering all of the aforementioned factors, it is
recommended that extension efforts give priority to the hobby
and income farmer groups since it would seem that they have
greater incentive to improve their farms. As for the retired
people working farms, more information on their motivations is
needed to devise possibilities of helping them specifically.
Among the Hobby and Income farmers, the major problem iden-
tified was lack of time, largely due to off-farm activities. There-
fore, extension efforts should concentrate on reducing time con-
straints, or at least, take them into consideration when searching
for solutions to the problems encountered.
Many farmers expressed frustrations with marketing their
produce--aspects such as low price, insufficient time, and lack
of transport. Efforts to increase awareness of marketing alter-
natives in the Tallahassee area might prove particularly helpful
to the newer part-time farmers who are less familiar with the
business. One such specific idea might be to establish a sort
of "shopper's guide" of farm produce in the area. Just before
harvest time farmers could advertise their produce to sell by
phone-in orders, "you-pick" deals, etc., and the publication would
be distributed to the community weekly or bi-weekly.
Lack of technology information was also a problem identified
by both farmers and surveyors. Simple "How to...." booklets might
prove most time efficient in relaying present knowledge of specific
technologies. Suggested topics might include: food preservation,
methods, animan husbandry, and pest/disease control. The latter--
insect/disease pests--was a frequently mentioned problem involving
such pests as army worms, fire ants, tip moth, and nematodes.
This might be a target study for on-farm research.
Other possible extension efforts might be directed toward
developing record-keeping systems especially designed for the part-
time nature of these farms. Finally, coordinating services such
as machine-share or matching of experienced elderly farmers with
youth (eg. 4-H members) who wish to learn farming skills might
I. Sole Source of Income
A. Profit oriented farms:
They seem to have some education and are considering
to abandon farming because of low prices, bad weather
and urban encroachment. (Resulting in higher land sales
and land taxation). Since most problems concerning the
profit oriented farmers lay outside the realm of the
county extension service, assistance to these farmers
seems to be of limited value.
B. Subsistence income farmers:
Farmers in that grouping are marked by lack of formal
education, old age and an increasing incidence of med-
ical handicaps. Major problems of these farmers were
maintaining an adequate cash flow, and inability to change
enterprises, with associated techniques, due to higher
risks. Their days in farming are numbered because of
old age and lack of interested family members in farming.
Thus for the extension service to be effective there
would be a need for personal one to one guidance to
farmers in order to utilize the farmer's fullest potential.
II. Supplemental Income Family
A. Retiree farms;
The major problems facing this group are the urban
spread, increasing land prices with associated higher
property taxes. Since the majority of these folks are
on pensions or other forms of fixed limited incomes,
suburban construction might in the future increase
the temptation to sell the farm to developers. This
further reduces incentives to invest in long-term
agronomic commitments. In conclusion, we feel the need
of further investigating the subject.
B. Income oriented farms:
Major constraints for these farmers is lack of time.
Therefore, limited time is a major factor in production
and marketing efficiency. Pamphlets and technology on
how to reduce labor inputs in production and marketing
aspects might be worthwhile.
C. Hobby farms:
These groups maintain one to two enterprises, which could
be improved. Generally they are not overly concerned
about problems. Extension Services however may be
beneficial in resolving specific farm problems.
III. General conclusion
As an overall conclusion, more efforts should be placed on
supplementary income farmers, specifically focusing on urban
agriculture. Because of the limited focus of this sondeo,
the following areas should be investigated further:
1. Greater understanding of the womans role in farming;
2. Specific agronomic practices currently being employed
by clientele, such as horticulture and field crops;
3. Tenure in order to determine long term land use trends,
4. Marketing potential for the supplementary income category.
If the intention is to encourage land use in Leon County
towards supplemental farming, policies which encourage supple-
mental farming should be pursued.
un Utfi 0 Oq d -J e -4 J
M'J Ln M Z- .j ell t i m m
I I I
s I L 1
- -1 -.O 0
SOIL SAMPLE REQUESTS
FOR LEON COUNTY
BY CROP FOR 1981-82
# OF SAMPLES % OF TOTAL
VEGETABLE GARDENS 121 45.0
LAWNS&ORNAMENTALS 53 19.7
PASTURES&FORAGES 48 17.8
OTHERS 47 17.5
TOTAL 269 10. U-
TABLE 1 c
PROFIT ORIENTATED -
SOLE SOURCE OF INCOME
ACRES ./ AGE / RACE
10 / 30 / w
1000 / 60
COW CALF HAY
SOLE SOURCE OF INCOME
20/ 84 / B
40 /60 / B
20 /70/ B
SUPPLEMENTAL INCOME FARMS
TYPE SIZE ACRES
# ENTERPRISES AGE.
AVE R AVE R
RETIRED 45 9-140 2.7 2-5 65 50-70 7 35
HOBBY 7 1- 16 1.6 1-2 48 30-65 8 40
INCOME 12 10-20 2,4 1-6 43 40-50 5 25
SUPPLEMENTAL INCOME FARMS
HOBBY HOGS,COWS(MILK),VEGETABLESBAHIA GRASS
HAY, CHRISTMAS TREESFRUITSPOULTRY