Dairy farmer Mac Pate of Maryville, Tenn., is 85 years young. Though he has slowed down some in recent years, he still has the drive and energy that helped him develop and maintain an outstanding dairy farm.

As a result of his long success as a dairy farmer, Pate has been selected as the 2011 Tennessee winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Pate now joins eight other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award.

The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

Milk production is excellent, now at about 27,000 pounds of milk per cow per year, down a bit from a peak of 29,000 pounds. At the peak, his 200 cows produced 5.8 million pounds per year.

“For two months, our cows produced more than 100 pounds of milk per cow per day,” he adds.

A farmer for 62 years, Pate farms scenic land shadowed by the Great Smokey Mountains in an urbanizing area near Knoxville. His farm has 1,365 acres, 1,100 acres of rented land and 265 acres of owned land. His forages include corn silage on 200 acres yielding 25 tons per acre and hay on 200 acres yielding three tons per acre. He also has 200 acres of pasture.

In addition, he grows corn grain on 200 acres yielding 140 bushels per acre, soybeans on 200 acres yielding 35 bushels per acre and wheat on 200 acres yielding 50 bushels per acre.

“Our pastures are mostly fescue with clover. We make hay from our fescue and orchardgrass,” he says. He also makes round bale silage from wheat and other small grains. His double-cropping system features no-till corn planted after rye.

“We haul our soybeans to market in Guntersville, Ala., and then haul back soybean meal that we use for protein in our feed rations,” he says.

Along with replacement heifers, he raises Holstein steers that he sells at 500 pounds in a dairy steer sale held at a local auction market. “Not many people know that dairy farmers produce 27 percent of the U.S. beef supply,” he adds.

His father was a county sheriff who confiscated moonshine during the Great Depression. Pate is old enough to remember milking cows by hand. His farm didn’t get electricity until 1941.

He also remembers when thousands of nearby farm families were forced off land now flooded by lakes created in the 1930s by the Tennessee Valley Authority.