GILCHRIST COUNTY SONDEO REPORT
April 2, 1982
As a team of agronomists, anthropologists, agricultural economists, entomologists
and educators, we listened to several farmers in Gilchrist County, Florida; we looked
at what they grew, we asked them how they grew it and why they farmed. The purpose
of a sondeo is to hear farmers talk of their farms, listen and watch for unifying
patterns and systems and identify their problems and constraints. Using this information
as a base, attempts are then made to find solutions to the problems and to suggest
new technologies. The many possible solutions will later be field-tested and, if
proven successful, implemented on a large scale.
"Entering Gilchrist County"
If it were the year 1924 and a tourist in the state asked directions to
Gilchrist County, a native Floridian would not have known where to point. Gilchrist,
the youngest county in Florida, broke away from Alachua County in November, 1925.
Historically, many of the rural north Florida people have come from the hill
states, Tennessee, Kentucky or Georgia. Agriculturally, the area had been used
by the Spaniards for grazing cattle. Later, about the 1830's, indigo plantations
flourished in the region. Other important crops raised at that time included
maize, sweet potatoes, and some rice and sugar cane. Years later, tobacco and
cotton production would grow in importance.
Gilchrist County has historically been a cattle-centered production area.
Until 1947, the cattle grazed on common land. The Fence Act, passed in 1947,
limited grazing. Farmers were required to keep their herds confined. The passage
of this law led to marked changes in the level of management and amount of expenses
required to maintain a cattle herd.
Presently, Gilchrist County covers an area of 346 square miles. It borders on
the counties of Alachua, Columbia, Suwanee, Lafayette, Dixie and Levy. Two rivers
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C O U N T Y
mark the northern and western borders, the Santa Fe River and Stephen Foster's
amiable Suwanee River, respectively. The natural vegetation of the area include
swamp forests, upland pine and oak forests, pine flatwoods, hardwood forests,
and Northern and Central hardwood and pine forests.
The soils of Gilchrist County are generally sands to sandy loams, with
sandy, loamy or clay subsoils. The prevalent soil orders are Entisols and
Spodosols; Entisols being characteristically young soils with little or no
horizon differentiation, Spodosols being soils with a sub-surface horizon (spodic)
containing an accumulation of organic matter and aluminum, with or without iron.
Soil :series to be found in the county include Alpin Blanton (15%), Cambler-Apopka
(14%), Jonesville-Chiefland (36%), Hernando-Archer-Chiefland (4%), Chipley-Blanton
(3.5%), and Leon-Mascottle-Surrency (26%). Soil classifications, as outlined by
the Soil Conservation Service, that exist in the county are the following:
Class II Good land with few limitations, requiring moderate
conservation to maintain good yields. Total:
Class III Having more restrictions than Class II, but still
very productive when required conservation practices
are maintained. Total: 27,000 acres
Class IV Very limited capacity to produce most cultivated crops,
but under intensive management are moderately well
suited to some truck and flower crops. Total:
10,000 acres (estimated)
Class V With severe limitations, generally not suited to
cultivation though may be put in woodlands, pasture,
range or wildlife production. Total: 21,000 acres
Seventy-seven percent of the land falls under Classes II and III. Significant
constraints inherent to the sandy and sandy loam soils include low water-holding
and low nutrient-holding capacity. Required are larger amounts of fertilizer and
water inputs, as compared to silt or clay soils.
Climatic characteristics that need to be considered include temperature,
rainfall, and wind. The average annual temperature is 69.60F., ranging from
an average summer temperature of 81.40F. to an average winter temperature of 56.60F.
Temperatures above 900F. are expected 105 days out of the year. Below-freezing
temperatures occur approximately 22 days out of the year, rendering the area unsuitable
for the cultivation of tropical vegetation.
Average annual rainfall is 51.6 inches, with maximum rainfall occurring
in June and July, minimum rainfall occurring October-December. On the average,
one-half of the total rainfall occurs in the period June through September. High
levels of rainfall also occur in the spring. In either period of high rainfall,
the Suwanee River may be subject to flooding.
The prevailing winds are southernly; they shift to northernly winds in the winter.
The month of greatest wind activity is the month of March. Wind speeds are generally
10 MPH during the day and slow to 8 MPH at night.
The current population of Gilchrist County is 6,027. The population density
is 17.4 people per sq. mi. The population has been increasing; the rate of increase
from 1970 to 1978 was 69%. Most of the increase has been due to migrations into
the area. The age-structure breakdowns of Gilchrist are:
under 15 22%
65 and over 14%
The racial composition is 95% white, 5% non-white. There are 3 public elementary
schools and 2 secondary schools in the county, with 41.86% of the high school
graduates going on to colleges and universities. There are no hospitals in the
county, the nearest being in Gainesville.
Income in the county is generated by the following major industries (with
Agriculture is currently the most important income-generating activity and also
currently the most extensive land use category in the region. This situation
is expected to maintain itself over the next 20 years, as development and popu-
lation growth are expected to be only moderate.
The 1978 Agricultural Census of Florida provided somewhat of an overview of
farming in Gilchrist County. The total number of farms the census acknowledged
was 369, encompassing 118,813 acres. Of the 369 farms, the following percentages
of farms were counted as having some participation in the following activities:
any cattle and calves 72% corn (for all purposes) 13.6%
any hogs and pigs 36% sorghum 2.3%
any poultry 14% soybeans 2.4%
goats 3.5% hay crops 5%
all vegetables 1.9%
peanuts (human consumption) .2%
Although our concern was with small farms, we felt that it was important to arrive
at a general picture of the total agricultural situation of the farmers of Gilchrist
County. The census did treat separately two categories of farms those with income
above $2,500 (from total farm sales) and those with farm income below $2,500. They
grouped 235 farms in the first group and 134 in the second. In other words, 36%
of the total number of farms realize farm sales of less than $2,500 per year.
Current crop acreage background information was provided by the county
extension director, Mr. Martin Weaver. They are as follows:
Soybeans 3500 acres
Watermelons 4000 acres
Hay and pasture 15,000 acres
Field peas 2,500 acres
Millet (for cattle) 2,500 acres
Vegetables 500 acres
Canteloupe 1000 acres
Crop acreage allotment in the county amount to:
400 acres for peanuts
250 acres for tobacco
This data supports our suspicions that we are likely to find small farmers involved
with livestock production and related crops as their primary activity. Thus the
sondeo report proceeds from statistics to the actual encounters with the small
farmers of Gilchrist County.
Identifying and classifying the farming systems surveyed were perhaps
the most difficult parts of this exercise. While it was easy to see what
were the major features and relationships within each surveyed farm, delineating
and unifying features between farms were much more difficult to sort out.
Farmings systems were most readily distinguished most readily by a
dominant commodity around which other commodities were centered. In terms of
dominant commodities, we separated the surveyed farms into three groups:
I. Livestock-dominated with crop and forage associations
II. Crop-dominated with livestock associations
Implicit in this classification is that homogeneity (dominant commodities)
can be attributed to underlying sets of directive exogenous and endogenous factors.
Directive factors which we felt were important in characterizing Gilchrist County
farming systems were:
1. Capital commitment (high vs. low)
2. Time commitment (full-time vs. part-time)
3. Motivation (financial returns vs. sense of satisfaction)
4. Objectives (growth vs. stability vs. decline)
5. Family lineage (old vs. new)
Thus a Gilchrist County farm system, be it livestock, crop, or subsistence-
based, is a manifestation of what the farmer can do given the money and time
he has available and what he wants to do given his individual motivations and
We also hypothesized that there were perhaps biological factors which
characterize Gilchrist County farming systems. For example, the Trenton area,
where most of the vegetables are grown, has fairly rich, well-drained soils as
compared to those of the rest of the county. Goats, better leaf browsers than grass
grazers, were found in association with hardwood climax communities rather than
pine woodlands. A commercial-scale apiary was found bordering the pine flatwoods,
a continuously moist, poorly drained area with a mixed understory of flowering
Because insufficient supportive information was obtained in the sondeo, we
feel that the above-mentioned directive factors remain hypothetical. We do
feel, however, that they can provide a framework for future research aimed at
discriminating the logic behind a farmer's choice of a dominant commodity. We
would like to see continued research into possible relationships between farming
systems and natural climax and successional biological communities. This type
of research might not only provide insight into why farmers grow what they grow,
but might also suggest avenues for future research. This seems particularly
valid for forages, since there may exist exploitative native forages or closely
In addition to tests of the hypothesized biological and socio-economical
rationales behind farming systems, we would also like to suggest research into
possible historical rationales. One farmer we interviewed was growing a 100-
year-old variety of corn that had been handed down from generation to generation.
It may be fruitful to determine other old varieties grown, how they were grown,
and why production practices changed.
In conclusion, tests of our hypotheses could provide information needed to
establish sub-categories of farming systems, i.e. recommendation domains.
Livestock production in Gilchrist County is predominantly beef cattle-centered,
with some production of hogs, goats and poultry. Within the beef cattle system, we
find the cow-calf operation to be the most common.
The cow-calf livestock system that has evolved in Gilchrist County can be seen
as a response to the existing environmental and socioeconomics constraints. As
discussed earlier, a majority of farmers in Gilchrist County are part-time, low re-
source farmers. Both labor and capital are therefore included among the constraints
limiting agricultural production. Intrinsic characteristics of livestock serve to
provide an optimum production alternative to crops when efficiency in the use of
labor and capital is considered.
Labor requirements for cattle on pasture land are low when compared to crops or
other more intensive animal operations. In Gilchrist County, cattle are handled
only twice per year and relatively small pastures make them highly accessible.
Further reductions in labor requirements have been made with the introduction
of the large hay bailing systems.
Capital requirements in cattle enterprises are flexible and of the long-run
nature. Land clearings, pasture establishment, fences and breeding stock are
investments that part-time farmers can invest in and expand upon when financial
resources are available. When financial resources are tight, expansion of the
enterprise can slow without the risk of credit foreclosures, as would be the
case when machinery is purchased on credit.
The degree of risk is smaller in livestock production systems when compared
to crops because of the higher tolerance levels animals have over plants in harsh
climatic conditions. A short-term drought that would destroy a crop might only
stress a livestock system, leaving it intact.
The physical environment in Gilchrist County imposes constraints upon the
type of livestock operations found there. Poor soil quality and frequent drought
conditions are impediments to the production of high-quality feed. Cattle
fattening operations and dairy operations both require large inputs of high-
quality feed. Cow-calf operations, however, do not.
The physical and socio-economic constraints combined thus provide an explanation
of the prevalence of the cow-calf system in Gilchrist County.
The cow-calf system can be divided into three principle components to
facilitate comprehension: forages, livestock and infrastructure.
Forage production: The forage component is highly related to the soil fertility
and climatic conditions found in Gilchrist County. We can divide forage production
into grazing and complementary pastures.
In the grazing pasture system, bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) is the most
frequently utilized pasture grass in Gilchrist County. Generally speaking,
bahiagrass is low-yielding, has a slow rate of growth and is poor in quality
when compared to other pasture grasses. However, there are several characteristics
that allow bahiagrass to remain important on farms in Gilchrist County. Bahiagrass
does not require high levels of fertilization and is well adapted to sandy soils.
It is drought resistant and grows persistently during the frequent drought conditions.
Bahiagrass also withstands close grazing so that it is virtually impossible to
outgraze. These characteristics provide the farmer with a source of feed that is
dependable and relatively inexpensive albeit low-yielding. Bahiagrass pastures
are established by broadcast seeding at the beginning of the summer rainy season.
They can be grazed by October if growing conditions are adequate. Farmers in
Gilchrist County typically fertilize their bahiagrass pastures twice a year,
splitting an application of $200/acre of 28-0-10 or similar mixtures. The first
application is in early March, followed by a second application in July. It
should be noted that not all farmers choose to fertilize their pastures because
of the high cost involved.
Bermudagrass (Cynadon dactylon (L) Pers) is an improved pasture grass that is
used mainly for hay production. Coastal Bermuda is the most common variety
found, although Callie Bermuda is also utilized with good results. Bermudagrass
is normally established by vegetative seeding in June. It can be lightly grazed
by the following October or November. Following a dormant period during the
winter months, new growth starts in March. Most farmers use fertilizer mixes
of 20-0-20 or 28-0-10, and apply 200-600 pounds per acre per year. Dry matter
yields range from three to five tons per year. Three cuttings are normal and
the quantity harvested decreases with successive cuttings. It is interesting to
note that the farmer who grows the Callie variety makes 5-6 cuttings per year.
He also applies 75 pounds of ammonium nitrate per acre three weeks after cutting.
Current prices for 30 kg. bales of hay were given at $2.25 $2.50.
Rye is a crop that it utilized as a winter forage although it can be used
for grain and hay. Most farmers drill plant to obtain good stands, but some
broadcast seeding is practiced. Rye is usually planted in October and can be
grazed as early as December. Grazing may continue until April or May if no
grain or hay crop is needed. Farmers commonly fertilize their rye crop and use
approximately 300 pounds per acre of mixes similar to 20-0-30. Rye also serves
as a cover crop and is turned under to enhance soil fertility before such crops
as corn, peas or watermelon are planted.
Millet is a summer grazing crop that often is planted behind watermelon.
When planted in this fashion, it utilizes the excess fertilizer in the soil.
The prevalent breeds of beef cattle in Gilchrist County include Angus, Hereford
and Brahman. Most of the farmers have crossbred animals which exhibited hybrid
vigor by having produced heavier than expected calves. The cows are crosses of
Hereford, Angus or Brahman. Each farmer has his own preferences as to the degree
of breed mixing, but it is interesting to note that some farmers believed that
cattle with a white face brought higher market prices.
There is no definite breeding season on most farms, but it was noted that calves
are healthier in the early spring months. With no definite breeding season, the
cow/bull ratio is higher than would otherwise be the case. Low calving rates
(around 60%) are attributed mainly to poor feed quality and inadequate breeding
Calves are usually sold at weaning age (400-500 Ibs.), but may be marketed
earlier if the farmer has cash flow difficulties. Calf management seems adequate
with most farmers practicing dehorning, deworming and regular vaccinations. Common
pests and diseases include brucellosis, black leg, bangs, internal parasites and
bott worm flies.
It is very common to encounter goats on some small farms. The average size of
a herd is between 7 and 30 head.
Two categories of goats are found on Gilchrist County farms. The first
category include various dairy goats such as Alpine or Nubian goats. Some of them
may yield as much as 2 gallons of milk per day. However, they are not always
milked. "Wood" goats are found in other exploitations. These goats are principally
raised for meat and the young are used for barbeque. The breeds found in this
category can be characterized as dual-purpose, relatively non-specialized breeds.
Goat milk cannot be sold commercially. It is against the law. It can only
be a product for home consumption. In terms of the utility of "wood" goats,
they have been found useful in pasture management for controlling bushes.
Goats can be sold at the Gainesville Livestock Market, from where they
are shipped to Miami. They are sold at about $45 for an adult. There is no
specific age when they are marketed, but it is usually around months of age.
The constraints that exist for farmers relative to their goat herd are that
goats can be eaten by predators and they are sensitive to intestinal parasites.
Farmers use vermifuge and rotate the herds through the pastures as control measures.
Sometimes the mother does not have enough milk to feed her offspring when she
has more than two. The farmer uses a bottle-feeding technique, which is costly
and not necessarily efficient. Goats are bought from neighbors or provided by
youth leaders (as in the case of dairy goats). They are raised in the same pastures
as the farmer's cows. Soybean meal is sometimes given as a supplemental feed
to dairy goats.
Goats don't appear to occupy an important place in the system. However, we
feel that, as prices and environmental conditions continue to deteriorate,
they could become an interesting alternative against the risks involved in
Sondeo findings indicate that swine operations in Gilchrist County are limited
mainly to small, backyard production. Herd size ranged from 3 to 15 sows with one
boar per farm for breeding purposes. Excess hogs were sold at the market, while
hogs for home consumption were slaughtered at local butcher shops.
At one farm, the average litter size was 12 piglets. This farmer found 10
to be an optimal number and would destroy two piglets to bring the average number
of weaned piglets to ten. These animals were sold as feeder pigs at the market.
Some farmers purchase commercial hog rations while others grow most of the
feed needed to support their herds. Corn and peanut intercropping as a source
of feed was observed.
The housing of hogs was not capital-intensive. Simple, open-sided structures
without cement floors were typical. Both electric and the traditional "hog-wire"
fences were employed to keep hogs restrained.
No severe diseases or nutritional deficiencies were noted on any of the farms.
The constraints associated with hog production that farmers most commonly
referred to were the high cost of feed and feed production and low market prices.
Break-even figures given by hog producers were around $.52 per pound of liveweight.
Most of the farmers involved in this system in Gilchrist County generate their
income mainly from off-farm jobs or are retired and receive a steady fixed income.
They grow crops mainly as a way of increasing their total income.
The major constraint of this region is water availability. Given the sandy
texture and low water-retention properties of the soils, this factor becomes very
important. The main crops produced in the county are watermelon, soybeans, corn
and tobacco. A description of each of the crops and their practices will be given
After the land preparation that takes place at the beginning of the winter, most
of the farmers plant a strip of some grass, mainly rye, in.order to prevent
severe wind erosion that could adversely affect the watermelon seedlings.
The planting begins after the grass is sufficiently tall. When the plants cover
the ground, the farmer incorporates the green material back into his field. The
variety most often planted is Crimson Sweet, which has small seeds and gives them
more plants per pound of seed. Another variety grown is Johnson Grey which produces
a medium-sized watermelon.Some farmers plant their watermelons in mid to late
February so that they can jump ahead of producers in other states (Georgia, for
example) and get a better price in the market. But in doing so they are taking
the risk of losing their entire crop to a late frost.
With respect to fertilization, they add from 600 to 1,000 pounds of different
formulas of fertilizer to the soil, the most popular being 8-12-12. They also
apply potash, but not when they use liquid fertilizer.
Farmers most often apply only one application of pesticide in the whole cycle
of the crop.
Most of the labor on the farms we visited is done by the family members.
The yields for non-irrigated fields are from 25 to 35 thousand pounds per
acre. Under irrigation the yields could be from 5 to 10 thousand pounds greater.
The expected gross revenue is between $1,000 and $2,000 per acre.
The main problems of watermelon in the area wind and drought periods and
nematodes. This crop is valued by the farmers because of the high net returns
per acre and also because it can be a source of non-taxable income, especially
if the sales transaction is done in cash and the farmer later neglects to report
this source of income on his tax return.
Many farmers who cultivated tobacco in the past now rent out their tobacco
allotments due to a labor constraint. Tobacco is a labor-intensive crop and the
harvest is done mainly by hand. The labor supply in the peak periods is very low.
At least 15 workers are needed during these periods to cover only 35 acres of
tobacco. A full-time laborer on one of the farms we visited told us that good
labor is worth $6 to $7 per hour, but none of the farmers can afford to pay
Tobacco must be sprayed weekly to control the hornworm.
In Gilchrist County, soybeans are grown in rotation with field crops such
as corn, wheat, oats, or when any spring crop is removed in time to prepare the
land for a June planting. Soybean seedbeds are prepared by the conventional
method, which consists of plowing, applying fertilizer and planting the crop in
June. The most important cultural practices are weed control by cultivation
and the control of insects and diseases through the application of pesticides
Once the crop is mature, it is mechanically harvested and it is sold to a
broker. Most farmers feel that soybeans are not a profitable crop when grown
on a small scale.
Until 1976, corn was an important crop in the area. But the high costs of
production and the low market prices have forced farmers to abandon it because
they could no longer break even.
There are some farmers who grow corn under irrigation and some also grow
corn as feed for their own livestock operations.
This crop was promoted at one time and many farmers tried it, but the plants are
susceptible to a disease and many lost a major portion of their crop. In addition,
the nearest market for a sunflower crop is Valdosta, Georgia, inaccessible to most
Gilchrist County farmers. It is doubtful that sunflower will ever become an
important crop in this region.
The subsistence farming system is characterized by small land holdings and
a diversity of farming enterprises. Subsistence farm-size ranged from 1.0 -
40.0 + 14.4 acres. Farming enterprises are home vegetable gardens, locally
adapted fruit and nut trees and pasture grasses. Livestock are goats, chickens,
rabbits, hogs and cattle. One farmer kept honey bees and another raised and
sold earthworms(!) Because one of the characteristics of the subsistence farmer
is a diversity of enterprises, only a general description of system components
and how they are related will be given.
The home vegetable garden is generally planted to a wide variety of vegetables
and small fruits. Selection of varieties is guided by the family's preferences.
Fruit trees (peaches, apples, apricots) and berry bushes (raspberries, blackberries,
blueberries) and grapevines are kept close to the homestead. Produce is either
canned or frozen or both. Meat is either slaughtered and butchered on-farm or
Various degrees of food self-sufficiency can be found. Deficits are more
common to fruits; surpluses more common to livestock. Surplus farm produce may be
sold but sales are generally more by speculation than by design. Surplus farm
produce might also be shared amongst neighbors. This is a part of the Gilchrist
County neighboring tradition."
The economics of home vegetable gardening or raising meat for home consumption
on a small scale are unknown. Although some farmers interviewed stated that they
preferred to grow all the vegetables and meat that they consumed, others indicated
that it was more expensive to raise food than to buy it. Since many of the
subsistence farmers we encountered could be classified as low-income, and because
some farmers expressed interest in technologies which would reduce the cost of
producing food for home consumption, we feel that future researchers should
investigate technologies which would minimize cash inputs for home gardeners.
Subsistence farming is a part-time operation; the majority of the farmer's
income is derived from off-farm labor or retirement benefits. Monies derived from
land use tax exemptions may contribute to the subsistence farm income but, in terms
of overall income or as a directive influence, tax exemptions are relatively
unimportant. One reason for this may be that maintaining records needed to
qualify for tax exemptions and filling out necessary forms are time-costly
activities to the farmer who also holds down a full-time off-farm job.
Farm wives play important roles in subsistence farming. They provide not
only income and labor, but also important management skills. One of the major
enterprises of the subsistence farm, food processing and storage, is done almost
entirely by farm wives. In cases where the wife does not work off-farm, she may
assume all the daily farm maintenance chores such as tending the garden and
feeding the animals. Children may also contribute significant amounts of time
to farm maintenance activities.
Diversity within the subsistence farming system is probably related to the
farmer's goals. We felt that the main objectives of the subsistence farmer were:
(1) to provide food for home consumption and (2) to derive feelings of satis-
faction from farming activities.
Regarding food, as the system becomes more diverse in its' component parts,
a more varied diet is provided.
Regarding "feelings of satisfaction", all farmers would probably agree
that they derive gratification and fulfillment from their farming activities.
We also felt that, to the subsistence farmer, capital gains, insurance against
risk and reduction in labor demands were subordinate priorities. Thus, a
subsistence farmer seems to allow himself more freedom for experimentation
with new or unique species, breeds and markets. This kind of variation
contributes to the overall diversity of the subsistence farming system.
Planting, production and harvest are all important aspects of any agricultural
enterprise, but the selling of a commodity is the final step before a farmer realizes
any gain. In Gilchrist County, we found many different marketing schemes for the sale
of farm products.
Farmers selling livestock have many outlets for their animals. The Gainesville
Livestock Market auctions feeder pigs on the first and third Friday of each month;
slaughter hogs go every Wednesday. Farmers wishing to sell catlle can do so each
Monday and Wednesday. Goats and sheep are sold at the same time as feeder pigs.
Approximately 44% of our respondents who marketed cattle and hogs used the Gains-
ville outlet for this purpose. The animals were transported by personal trucks,
borrowed trucks or hired transport. Most of the purchasers of these animals are
buyers who represent various packinghouses in south Florida and other states.
The Trenton Livestock Market seems to be the one closest to the producers in
Gilchrist County. It has recently reopened under new management but some farmers
are reluctant to use it. Many of them experienced cash flow problems when the
market folded. They did not receive final payments until the market's financial
affairs were legally complete. This took several months. Other outlets for area
farmers include markets in Lake City, Chiefland, Ocala, Live Oak and Branford.
Not all livestock producers grow enough feed to satisfy their animals requirements.
They rely on neighbors or other area farmers to provide them with hay for this purpose.
Marketing of hay is usually done by newspaper ads or previous arrangement.
Producers of vegetables have access to Trenton Market in springtime. This
market is closed in the fall. A single buyer operates out of the market to purchase
vegetables and small lots of watermelons from area growers. Some farmers we talked
to told us they were disappointed with some marketing brokers. In the past,
brokers had come into the area and purchased melons and produce and, after a couple
of years, suddenly left. The farmers were then forced to find other outlets on their
Many farmers in the county grow watermelons. From 1974-1980, Gilchrist farmers
averaged 7.6% of all watermelon acreage harvested in the state. Most of the crop is
transported out of the area, some going as far as New York. In 1979, New York City
received more Florida-grown melons (approx. 14 million pounds) than any other city
in the country. Virtually all of these are trucked to their destination. Some
farmers rent trucks from friends and relatives and market their melons themselves.
The Atlanta Farmers' Market is one outlet, and Atlanta accounted for the second-
largest amount of Florida-grown melons in 1979. Other producers sell their produce
to buyers who drive by the fields and make cash purchases at the gate. Since the
buyers will buy in small lots, this is an important outlet for the small-acreage
The institutions that offer credit to farmers within Gilchrist County are:
1. Farmers' and Merchants' Bank (the only commercial bank in the county)
2. Mid-Florida Production-Credit Association
3. Federal Land Bank
4. Farmers' Home Administration
Farmers' and Merchants' Bank offer a 16.5% interest rate to their "very good
customers", but 90% of their farm loans are contracted at 18%. Demand for farm loans
has dropped in the last 2-3 years. Potential clients are generally only seeking
short-term loans to cover their seed and fertilizer costs.
The Mid-Florida Production-Credit Association will provide short-term and
intermediate loans (up to 7 years). As of April first, they offer a 14% interest
rate on all their loans. Ninety-five percent of the farmers dealing with the PCA
have put up their real estate as collateral. There are no restrictions on the use
of funds granted if you are a full-time farmer, but limited restrictions exist for
part-time farmers. The largest number of applications are for loans to cover
operating expenses. The volume of loan applications to the PCA has been increasing
over the past several years, because their interest rate is the lowest of any other
credit institution in the county.
The Federal Land Bank offers long-term loans of up to thirty and forty years
for the purchase of land to be used for agricultural purposes. If neither the
PCA nor the FLB will extend credit to a farmer, his next recourse is the Farmers'
The FHA of Gilchrist County will only lend to established farmers. They will
not lend money to individuals who are seeking to set themselves up as farmers.
Their criterion for loan qualification are: (1) a large portion of your total income
must be derived from the farm (2) you must own (or hope to own) no larger than a
family-sized farm (3) you must have a good credit rating and (4) you must demon-
state good managerial ability (subject to varying interpretations). Since the
objectives of the FHA are to provide credit to farmers who cannot obtain credit
from any other sources, the farmer must also show documentation that he has applied
to other banks and credit institutions, and has been repeatedly refused. The
types of loans that the FHA offers and their corresponding interest rates are:
1. Farm ownership loans 13.25%
2. Soil and water loans (irrigation) 13.25%
3. Operating loans (including 14.25%
The number of applications to the FHA has also been increasing over the past several
years due to the drought-like conditions that have prevailed in Florida since 1977.
The FHA has recently imposed a moratorium on foreclosures. Given the very high
loan default rate in Florida (70%), continued foreclosure activity would result
in flooding the market with land, thereby lowering prices. We encountered a
reluctance on the part of many Gilchrist farmers to deal with the FHA. Reasons
given were the long waiting periods before loans are approved and the huge volume
of paperwork and "red tape" the farmer must comply with at every step of the
Finance programs through the various farm machinery companies (Ford, Massey
Ferguson, Allis Chalmers) are available to the farmers, but the interest rates
are high (around 18-19%). The Commodity Credit Corporation will store grain
crops and extend short-term loans. When the market price increases and the
grain is sold, the C.C.C. collects on its loan plus accumulated storage costs.
However, very few farmers take advantage of this option.
The high cost of capital is a major constraint to all the systems we have
identified. In response to the high cost of borrowing money, Gilchrist County
farmers have cut back on production, thus reducing their operating costs and
credit needs. Upon contacting several farm machinery companies in Trenton,
we were told that farmers have also cut back on their purchases of new farm
equipment, preferring to patch and make do with what they have, rather than increase
their total farm debt. This universal response is also linked to a general uncer-
tainty on the part of the farmers as to their continued ability to meet large loan
payments, given the present slump in commodity prices and the continual increase in
The yearly revenue of Gilchrist County in taxes is approximately one
million dollars. According to the local tax assessor, substantially more
than 50% of the revenues come from taxes imposed on agricultural land.
A tax exemption available to all legal residents of Gilchrist County
is the Homestead Exemption. This is available to all homeowners, regardless
of income or acreage owned.
An important tax exemption available to farmers is the GreenBelt Provision.
The county tax assessor classifies all county land as either agricultural or
non-agricultural, all land supporting a commercial agricultural operation
considered to be agricultural and therefore eligible for the preferential
tax assessment available under the GreenBelt Law. The value of the farmer's
land is appraised on the basis of its "classified use" value (value of the
land in its present use in agriculture) rather than its "just" value (what
it would sell for on the open market). Gilchrist County has a ratio of
"just" use value to "classified use" value of 4.25, meaning that commercial
agricultural producers pay taxes on less than a quarter of the market value
of their farmland. The GreenBelt Law is thus a preferential tax assessment
originally enacted to preserve and protect agricultural land. Establishment
of a "classified use" value system results in a lower tax liability for
lands maintained in a bonafide agricultural use, thus lowering the cost of
holding on to the land. The only stipulation is that you must have lived
in the county for at least five years before you qualify for this exemption.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSTRAINTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Wind (causing soil erosion and crop damage)
Lack of water
Poor feed quality
Forage unavailable at times
Usage of wind breakers, such as bamboo, rye, corn down in'furrows
Encouragement of better soil protection practices, such as wind breaks,
sod crops and cover crops, and minimum tillage vs. conventional
Incorporation of high biomass crops into soils to increase organic matter content
Cultivation of legumes (use of inoculated seed, introduction of new varieties,
investigation into potential use of native legumes)
Cultivate new varieties of forages in order to combat the problem of poor
feed quality (for example, the perennial peanut)
Experiment with combinations of improved forages in order to increase
nutritional content and dry matter content of pastures (for example,
bahiagrass and perennial peanut or bahiagrass and white clover)
In the area of water management, use foresight and develop good zoning laws
Environmental constraints found in the area included winds, lack of water,
poor soils and frost. March is the month of problematic winds that cause crop
damage and soil erosion. Some farmers already protect watermelon crops from a
wind-blown sand-induced disfiguration by interplanting watermelon with rye.
This is a recommendation an FSR/E team could probably better disperse. Though
not original, it is an adequate solution to the problem. A farmer might, however,
want to weigh carefully the benefits of planting rye to prevent wind damage,
as this practice may take another limiting in-put, water, away from his
watermelon crop. The FSR/E team may do little more than a native rain dance
to combat the problem of lack of rainfall, but solutions to the constraint of
water could be suggestions for efficient irrigation systems such as drip or
seepage for appropriate soils. Irrigation, however, incurs large capital
investments, another area of constraint to the farmers. One cattle farmer
believed digging a pond on his land could ease his water pressures, but the
problem was compounded when he could not obtain permission from the county
to do so. Notably, although farmers complained of being in a "dry pocket",
weather data indicate that there is sufficient rainfall if only the soil had
greater water-holding capacity. Poor soils, sands and sandy loams that hold
little water or nutrients, might be improved by incorporating into the soil
high biomass crops. Another suggestion would be to plant leguminous forages,
innoculating the seeds and thereby encourage the production of useable nitrogen
in the soil. Such legumes could be expensive to establish. However, the farmer can
weigh the advantages of an improved clover pasture (higher nutritional content,
calves reach higher weaning weights, cows realize better reproduction rates,
fertilizer costs decrease) against its added cost. New varieties or species
of plants that might do well under Florida's stressed water and soil conditions
should also be sought. A final consideration for future research efforts
could be the investigation of native vegetation and ecosystems of the area
for different grasses and legumes to plant and ways to plant them, thus
immitating the successful natural systems.
BIOLOGICAL CONSTRAINTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Constraints (pests and diseases)
Horn worm horn flies and bott flies
army worm Cattle: bangs
mole crickets tuberculosis
nematodes black leg
peach beetle pink-eye
velvet bean caterpillar Hogs: hog mange
Nematodes: New varieties
Home garden nematode control: plastic covering before planting
Strict enforcement of quarantines and sanitation practices in order to
keep uninfested areas pest-free
Perhaps there is a reason for flies, mosquitos, tobacco horn worms, army worms
and many other pests that disturb the beasts, plants and peace humans attempt to
establish; we are not yet convinced. The list of crop pests and livestock pests
continue to plague Gilchrist County as researchers continue to look for ways to
combat them. Biological controls are currently available for velvet bean cater-
pillars and other caterpillars. Bacillus thurengiensis, a natural bacterial
pathogen to many caterpillars, is available and may be sprayed onto crops. General
use of BT could be recommended. The comparative high cost of the BT may restrict
its wide-spread use at this time, though an additional consideration is that the lack
of resurgence problems associated with the BT use may actually reduce total seasonal
Recommendations to outwit the nematodes might be to confuse their appetites
by planting new and distasteful varieties of their favorite crops. Some home
gardeners have had success in spreading plastic covers over fields before planting.
The slow solar bake then fries the nematodes. Controlled burn could have the
same effect. Very sandy soils offer prime conditions for nematodes, therefore,
the incorporation of organic matter into the soil could also lessen the problem.
Quarantines and sanitary procedures should be implemented and enforced to
keep out new pests and to minimize the spread of those already there. Tilling
machinery and new crops are the vectors for augmenting pest problems. Tilling
equipment should be cleaned adequately after use in the field and new crops should
be checked and monitored for any new problems they might bring into the system.
Livestock diseases are more than likely being adequately dealt with at present.
Nearly all of the cattle farmers we spoke with are vaccinating for black leg
and bangs. Goats are often pastured with cattle to control fly populations that
are the vectors of other pathogens to cattle. Pink-eye can be regulated by
eliminating breeds that are susceptible to it.
Hog mange can easily be treated by rubbing motor oil over the infected area.
MARKET CONSTRAINTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The market window for one of the area's major crops, watermelons, appears
to be very small. Farmers have to get crops planted and harvested as soon as
possible because the price drops rapidly as supplies increase. One solution
to this problem would be to research the possibility of a melon adapted to the
area which also had a shorter growing cycle. This could increase the duration
of the marketing period and the resulting income.
As previously noted, farmers have to travel to neighboring areas in order
to market livestock and vegetables. The recent re-opening of the Trenton Livestock
Market may offer a solution to this problem.
The high cost of inputs and the low commodity prices have combined to
squeeze the farmers profit margin tighter and tighter. Little, if anything,
can be done to influence the prices the farmers receive. We feel the only
course is to attempt to minimize input costs. The Florida Farm Bureau and
the Farmers' Mutual Exchange do offer discounts to farmers and may extend some
credit, but they don't seem to be meeting the financial needs of the area's
farmers. A "real" cooperative, established at the grass-roots level, could
be a viable solution, in light of the sharing of machinery and farm equipment
between neighbors and friends that already exists in the county.
As previously mentioned, farm families have expressed a desire to minimize
the expense of providing food for home consumption. Areas such as optimum
fertilizer use, companion planting, integrated pest management programs and
a more intensive compostbuilding schedule are suggestions that offer great
potential for further research. Increasing yields on small plots and finding
the most economical and efficient ways of preserving the food that is harvested
are also areas of concern. Research geared to developing technologies appropriate
to small home gardens should help to increase the cash available for meeting
other farm expenses.
CAPITAL CONSTRAINTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Farmers of Gilchrist County, like most farmers everywhere, are affected by
the lack of capital. Loans are available, but at a high rate of interest. Credit
is difficult to obtain and comes in limited amounts. In severe situations,
farmers are encouraged to sell land to developers who offer attractive prices.
For the first and second cases mentioned above, we can offer no solutions.
The loss of farm land to "development" could perceivably be halted by a change
in local zoning laws. However, we consider capital to be an exogenous constraint,
one that the farmer will not be able to change through his individual efforts.
INFORMATIONAL CONSTRAINTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Lack of good agricultural information aimed at the problems of the small or
General inaccuracy of information the farmers do receive
More FSR/E funding
Combined cooperative efforts of FSR/E team and local extension agents to help
build better rapport between farmers and researchers
Several farmers expressed the opinion that the lack of and inaccuracy of
agricultural information was a problem for them. One farmer even felt that
the University of Florida should conduct research on poor soils like his so
that the recommendations made would be more realistic to his situation. It
seems to us, given the general thrust of agricultural research towards large
commercial farm operations, that the only way small farmers will receive accurate
information is for the University of Florida to expand its financial support
of the FSR/E program.
More accurate information alone will not remove the distrust felt by the
small farmer for the agricultural research establishment. .An expanded FRS/E
program in cooperation with the local extension agents could help to foster
better rapport through the expanded personal contact that would result.) More
confidence in and acceptance of information should become a reality.