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Coming through the storm

Agriculture.com Staff 09/28/2006 @ 3:04pm

Every young farmer experiences bumps on the road to success. That's just a fact of life. But for Jacob and Danielle Larson of Okeechobee, Florida, some of those bumps had names -- Charley, Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma.

The hurricanes devastated Florida in 2004 and 2005, but thanks to their faith in God, a solid foundation in agriculture, and the loyalty of trusted employees, the Larsons made it through the storms to sunnier days.

Jacob and Danielle's story begins long before they were born.

When Jacob's grandfather, Louis "Red" Larson, was a boy growing up in Florida, he saved his paper route money to buy a pony, which he later sold for a profit. With those earnings, he bought his first dairy cow, and began bottling and selling milk to neighbors for 10¢ a quart.

Today, Larson Dairy has 6,000 cows on three farms, producing more than 45,000 gallons of milk each day. Red owns the business with wife Reda and their four children. Red has received many industry awards, and the dairy science building at the University of Florida even bears his name.

Louis "Woody" Larson, Jacob's father, grew up working in the dairy. After graduating from the University of Florida and marrying his wife, Grace, he began managing a 1,200-head farm for Larson Dairy.

"That was a role reversal. All of a sudden I was in charge of some of the people who helped raise me," he says. "That was one of my earliest hurdles." Grace did bookkeeping and payroll for the dairy, but she retired to raise children Travis, Jacob, and Ginger.

Every young farmer experiences bumps on the road to success. That's just a fact of life. But for Jacob and Danielle Larson of Okeechobee, Florida, some of those bumps had names -- Charley, Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma.

Like his father, Jacob grew up in the dairy business but developed a love of beef cattle. "All the children had 4-H and FFA project animals because I wanted them to learn the economics," Woody says. "I really stressed the business side from a young age. Then as they got older, I helped them get a beef herd started."

In 2004, Hurricane Charley came up the western coast of Florida and dumped more than 8 inches of rain on the dairy Jacob manages, which is about 100 miles inland. Then Frances destroyed one barn. Three weeks later, Jeanne toppled another barn. In 2005, Wilma hit hard.

In March, Jacob and Danielle had their first child, Luke. Shortly after that, the couple -- along with Woody and Grace, and Travis and his wife, Colleen -- bought a nearby dairy where they now milk 600 cows. Jacob and Danielle manage the finances.

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