Florida dairy farmer Dale McClellan was named the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year during the opening day of the Expo, being held Oct. 16-18 in Moultrie, Ga.

McClellan says he was literally born into farming, being raised on his grandparents’ dairy farm in Tampa.

“I’d like to give thanks to God for giving me a miracle some time back — I was leaving a lot of potential on the table. And thanks to my wife Mary for being my greatest supporter and cheerleader,” he said in accepting the honor.

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.

“I’d like to thank the 160 great employees of our company who allow me to take off to be here today, and thanks to the owners or our company who are also family members for giving me space,” he said.

McClellan also thanked the “many Florida food service directors for seeing a small company as an important thing.”

“I’d also like to give thanks to my mentors who taught me that failure can be a great springboard to success. I accept this award for M & B Farms.”

(For an in-depth look at McClellan's farming operation, and the operations of the other nine 2012 state winners, see http://southeastfarmpress.com/sunbelt-ag-expo-0. Additional information about the Sunbelt Expo can be found at that location).

At his dairy in Lecanto, Fla., McClellan 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 a priority

Cow comfort is a priority, with barns that 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.

Joshua Craft with Florida Farm Bureau is the state coordinator of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Ray Crawford, recently retired assistant director of field services with Florida Farm Bureau, nominated McClellan for the award.

“Dale is a down-to-earth, super guy and worthy of this award,” says Crawford. “I admire his leadership in Farm Bureau, how he started his processing plant, how he and another guy started the milk marketing co-op and how he operates his farm.”

State winners also nominated for the award include Samuel P. Givhan of Alabama, Heath Long of Arkansas, Barry Martin of Georgia, Paul “Jim” Sidebottom of Kentucky, William L. Spain of Mississippi, Gary Blake of North Carolina, Edward “Monty” M. Rast, Jr., of South Carolina, Steve Dixon of Tennessee, and Maxwell Watkins of Virginia.

phollis@farmpress.com