A Bay Area man who owns a family-run dairy farm and processing plant was recently named the Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

"We wound up winning the whole southeast and I just can't hardly believe it," said Dale McClellan, president of M&B Products. "I'm so excited, my entire family's excited."

Farmers from 10 states were competing for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. McClellan received the honor on October 16, at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, GA.

"This award is not just for being the southeast dairy man of the year, it's all farms," McClellan said. "I don't know how many tens of thousands of farms are in the southeast but for that to come back to a little company right here in Citrus County, where we package milk in Hillsborough County, is a big thing."

"Dale and his family represent the best of American agriculture," stated J. Thomas Ryan, president of Swisher International, in a press release. "He is an innovative farmer... who gives back to others through his leadership in farm and community organizations." 

McClellan won the award for a number of reasons. Cow comfort is a top priority. That's why he put waterbeds in his free-stall barns for the nearly 700 dairy cows on his farm near Lecanto.

"We are pondering a little bit about maybe going to sand bedding, maybe going to compost bedding to improve cow comfort," he said.

Pride in his cows, and his work

Happier cows produce more milk, according to McClellan.

The judge also praised McClellan for being environmentally friendly. He flushes the barns three times a day while the cows are milked. The waste water is contained and recycled.

"It goes into a collection basin. We agitate it, remove the fiber solids, the nutrient remains in the water, we take that water and we irrigate our crops with it," said McClellan. "We grow crops with our waste water. We grow corn twice a year and we grow oats once a year." 

The dairy farmer uses all the corn and oats to feed his cows. The rolling herd average is 23,000 pounds of milk per cow, per year. That milk is shipped more than 60 miles south to the M&B Products processing plant in Temple Terrace. There it's packaged into lunch size portions for clients ranging from Meals on Wheels, the Dept. of Corrections and schools in 21 Florida counties.

"We have most of the counties in the Tampa Bay Area," McClellan said about his school lunch program. "I don't think we have Pasco or Manatee but I think we have the rest of them."

McClellan was also recognized for processing fat-free, sugar reduced flavored milk for students.

"Everything we did to our chocolate (milk) to reduce the fat to be non-fat and the sugar grams down to 22, we did that for the strawberry as well," he said. "The sales have actually increased in the strawberry and they have been two things that have really brought us into the limelight."

McClellan said he's working on a new fresh from Florida product for school lunches.

"We are working feverishly on a brand-new white chocolate milk that will be sweetened with natural sweetener stevia extract and it will be flavored with cocoa extract," he said. "It's very important that we get milk in kids. Because what happens if... kids don't like it? They're not going to drink it. We want to feed the kids not the trash can."

McClellan said between the dairy farm and the processing plant, he employs close to 160 people.

"In my county in Hillsborough... every month agriculture brings Superbowl value to the table," McClellan said. "We would like to see agriculture be recognized in a little higher regard than it is because we do employ a lot of people quietly."

McClellan now belongs to a farming fraternity that only has 23 members since the award began in 1990. McClellan will receive $15,000 cash for winning the Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.