A successful dairy farmer, Dale McClellan of Thonotosassa, Fla., helped to start a milk-marketing cooperative and developed his own milk and fruit juice processing plant.

He is known for the fat-free, sugar-reduced chocolate milk he delivers to Florida schools.

As a result of his dairy farming and milk marketing success, McClellan has been selected as the Florida winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. McClellan now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

At his dairy in Lecanto, Fla., he milks some 700 cows three times daily with a rolling herd average of about 23,000 pounds of milk per year. His farm consists of 1,272 acres, including 952 acres of rented land and 320 acres of owned land.

Cow comfort is a priority. McClellan’s barns currently feature waterbeds along with fans and misters for the cows. He is exploring the use of sand bedding. Research shows that cows on sand produce clean milk and suffer from fewer leg and hoof problems.

He recycles dairy waste by separating solids for application on non-irrigated land and by applying the liquid through his irrigation.

McClellan grows much of his own feed, including Tifton 44 bermudagrass hay on 80 acres yielding 3.5 to 5 bales per acre. The long growing season allows him to triple-crop 250 irrigated acres. This system includes oats yielding 4.5 tons of forage per acre, followed by two crops of corn that produce a total of 40 tons of silage per acre.

When possible, he grows feed products that are the most expensive to buy and buys feeds that are inexpensive to purchase.

The milk marketing cooperative he helped to establish, Premier Milk, is based in Ocala, Fla. McClellan says the cooperative pays a premium to its 13 farm members for superior quality milk. The co-op works to obtain higher milk prices, and it insures that his milk will have a home. The cooperative also provides milk supplies that he buys for processing and packaging at his M & B Products Tampa facility.