Last dairy in Polk County may close following October tornado

The last dairy in Polk County may close after getting slammed by a tornado that swept through the Lakeland area in October.

“It doesn’t mean the end, but we’re considering it,” Mike Carey, the owner of H.C. Dairy on Walker Road, told FOX 13.

The tornado first touched down near Lakeland Lindner International Airport then headed north to the Kathleen area. H.C. Dairy was right in its path.

“Up until 30 minutes before it came, we had no idea it was coming our way,” Carey said.

High winds knocked out the supporting poles in the barn, and the roof came crashing to the ground. Carey says two other barns were also destroyed. He says every structure on the farm was affected in some way.

The tornado flung a steel dumpster across the street, killed and injured cows.

In all, Carey says it caused $300,000 in damage, and he has no insurance. His carrier refused to renew his coverage the month before the tornado hit because of big payouts he had gotten after Hurricane Irma and the devastating storms of 2004.

Carey has been a hold out. A few decades back, there were close to 40 dairy farms in Polk County. Little by little, they all threw in the towel as profits fell, operating costs skyrocketed and labor became more difficult to find.

“It has gotten to the point that you’re either real big, or you’re gone,” said Neil Combee, a former US Congressman and rancher with deep agricultural roots in Polk County.

Carey hasn’t decided if he is going to keep plugging away, or retire from the dairy business.

Right now, he is just concerned about making whatever repairs he can on the little operating capital he has available.