A dairy farmer for 33 years, Bill Haak of Gentry, Ark., has added new enterprises to his farm and says such diversification helps him weather the volatile milk market.

As a result of his success as a dairy farmer, Haak has been selected as the 2010 Arkansas winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

Haak now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

His 730-acre farm has 250 acres of owned land and 480 acres of rented land. Crops last year included bermudagrass hay on 120 acres yielding six tons per acre, 100 acres of fescue hay yielding four tons per acre and 120 acres of soybeans yielding 40 bushels per acre. His main forages are ryegrass planted with clover, non-toxic tall fescue also planted with clover, Greenfield bermudagrass and Red River crabgrass.

He plants soybeans in mid-June and grinds and roasts harvested soybeans to feed to his dairy cows. This year, he added a new enterprise when he rented additional land to grow green beans for sale to a local canning company.

His livestock enterprises include about 100 head of Holstein cows in the dairy herd. He milks 80 to 90 head at any one time. The cows produce about seven gallons of milk per cow per day. He estimates his rolling herd average at 18,000 pounds of milk per year.

Other livestock enterprises include 120 head of Holstein heifers. “We buy Holstein heifers that we raise to sell to a cousin who has a dairy in Arizona,” he explains.

Haak also has about 110 cow-calf pairs in his Brangus beef herd. He sells steers when they reach 800 pounds, and sells females as springing heifers in a commercial Angus sale. He also buys 100 head of Holstein bull calves, castrates them and raises them to 800 pounds before selling them. “We hit a home run with our last group of Holstein steers we sold for 90 cents per pound, and we got more than $1 per pound for our beef steers,” he says.

Haak was raised on an Arizona dairy where his father had 200 cows. “My first job on the farm was scraping manure from the holding pens,” he recalls. He was going to join his dad in the dairy, but before he could, his father died and his family sold their farm.

By this time, Haak was married and wanted to start his own dairy farm. He first moved to the state of Washington where he rented 110 acres and bought baby calves. During two years there, he worked off the farm and raised and sold veal calves. He kept 54 heifers he would use to start his own milk herd.

Also during this time, he looked to buy land where he could start his dairy. He selected northwest Arkansas because land prices there were low and the area received abundant rain to support pastures. “We mortgaged the 54 heifers and bought 47 acres here in August of 1979 when I was only 22 years old,” he recalls. To expand his Arkansas operation and to make ends meet, Haak worked nine years at a baking company and eventually became a supervisor before resigning to farm full time.

One of his best diversification moves came when he started a sideline business to spread sawdust and wood shavings on floors of poultry houses. He gets sawdust and shavings from a cabinet shop and a molding company, and spreads the material in the houses of 30 to 40 chicken growers. Occasionally, he sells the wood by-products as bedding for dairy and horse farms.

He also buys litter from his customers and has developed a barter system, trading his sawdust for their litter. He sells litter he doesn’t need on his own pastures to other farmers, and spreads it for them. In applying litter, he follows strict nutrient management plans required to minimize offsite contamination that can result from excessive rates. He has also bought calves from his sawdust and litter customers. “This sawdust and shavings business is essential to the financial performance of our farm,” he adds.

This year, he’s fencing cattle out of a creek on his property and installing alternative cattle-watering systems using cost share assistance from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program available to Arkansas producers.

There were 400 dairy farms in Benton County, Ark., when he moved there, but only 12 dairies operate in the county now. Still, Haak expects to remain a dairy farmer. “I milk the same number of cows I milked in the 1990s,” he explains. “I expanded by adding profitable beef and sawdust enterprises, not by adding more milk cows.” He sells his milk through Dairy Farmers of America, a farmer-owned cooperative.

Haak is involved in a number of organizations. He is a member of the Benton County Conservation District board. In Benton County Farm Bureau, he has served as president, vice-president and as a board member. He was vice-president of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. And at Siloam Springs Bible Church, he has been a youth leader and deacon. He has been a member of Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Environmental Affairs Committee. He’s also a supporter of In Touch Mission, an Arizona-based international Christian outreach organization.

He met his wife Delia when he was 14 years old, and they were married at age 19. Delia has been a strong supporter of the farm and has had a distinguished career off the farm.

For 25 years, she was a faculty member at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark., and still teaches graduate business courses there. She now serves as executive director of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. After moving to Arkansas, Bill encouraged Delia to attend college. She holds a business degree from John Brown University and an MBA and a doctorate in higher education from the University of Arkansas.

The Haaks have two married sons Luke and Jake and six grandchildren with a seventh grandchild expected in September. Luke is sales manager at a Lowe’s home improvement store and Jake is finance business manager at the Gravette School District in northwest Arkansas. Both sons still work on the dairy farm when their schedules allow. Since 1992, the Haaks have counted Tony Nguyen, an international student at John Brown University, as a close family friend. “He’s such a part of our family, it feels like we have adopted him,” adds Delia. Also, Delia’s mother Nova Gumm has lived with the Haaks since 2008.

A hard working, devoted family man, Bill Haak says when times are tough on the farm, he looks forward to attending farm trade shows. He’s especially excited about coming to the Sunbelt Expo. “What an honor it is to be nominated for this award,” he adds.

Andy Guffey with Arkansas Farm Bureau is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. He calls the Haaks “an excellent family, very involved in farming and their community. Bill is a very innovative farmer. He has to be given the low margins of profit in the dairy industry.”

Jim Singleton, a local farmer and president of Arvest Bank in Gravette, Ark., nominated Haak for the award. He has known Haak for a number of years, and also admires his community involvement.

As Arkansas state winner, Haak will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a jacket and a $200 gift certificate from the Williamson-Dickie Company, and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States.

He is also now eligible for the $15,000 that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, a custom made Canvasback gun safe from Misty Morn Safe Co., and another $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative. Also, Williamson-Dickie will provide another jacket, a $500 gift certificate and $500 in cash to the overall winner.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for the 21st consecutive year.

Swisher has contributed some $804,000 in cash awards and other honors to Southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Haak is the fourth state winner from Arkansas. The award was opened to Arkansas farmers for competition during 2007, and the state winner that year was Michael G. Simon of Conway. Other Arkansas winners include Brian Kirksey of Amity who was selected as the overall winner in 2008 and Orelan Johnson of England who was the state winner in 2009.

Haak’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, will be visited by a distinguished panel of judges. The judges for this year include James Lee Adams, a farmer from Camilla, Ga., and the overall winner of the award in 2000; Jim Bone, manager of field development for DuPont Crop Protection from Valdosta, Ga.; and Charles Snipes, a retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist who is president and research scientist with Stoneville R&D, Inc., from Greenville, Miss.