Title: 2004 Ag-Environmental: M&B Products, Inc.
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
There are many challenges that face the Florida farmer -- weather, development, the economy. But one of the most daunting is the average Floridian’s perception of agriculture. For many people, the source of their food is not the farm, but rather the grocery store. Educating them about the importance of rural farm lands and the true nature of agricultural operations is a difficult task. And few know this better than Dale McClellan.
A dairyman all his life, McClellan continually sought new ways to expand M&B Products, the family’s Tampa-based business. One of the concepts was to create a modern, environmentally sound dairy farm. After years of costly research he did just that in Lecanto, a small community outside Homosassa Springs. While he took into account every aspect of proper stewardship when designing the facility, he did not anticipate the public’s response.
The farm was zoned for agriculture and is flanked on three sides by a large buffer of state lands. The neighbors, fearful with misconceptions about intensive animal operations, objected to the idea of a local dairy. They had a number of concerns; depletion of their water supply, the cows’ waste contaminating groundwater, and odors that would hurt their quality of life and property values. M&B faced verbal attacks and negative news coverage. The company made efforts to educate the surrounding community on the advanced, humane design of its Lecanto operation.
Dale McClellan, President, M&B Products, Inc.: One of the things we did that I think was beneficial, but it certainly increased the cost of us building a new dairy, is we offered to have a couple of public meetings. People, even if they were angry, they could show up and ask any question they wanted and we fielded those questions. But you’ve got to suit up and show up and not assume that you can just build a new operation and it take care of itself. We are in an environment now where people don’t understand agriculture. We’re good people, we just want to earn a living and we’re not here to harm the environment.
After a year-and-a-half of educating the public, McClellan’s vision of a modern dairy came to fruition, and in the summer of 2003 milking began.
Lecanto Dairy is integrated into its environment. Open air barns are positioned to maximize the flow of the area’s breezes for the cows’ comfort. Rubber mats in stalls also contribute to their comfort and the farm has seen increased milk production and improved breeding numbers. The cows are living longer too.
Recycling plays a big role at the dairy. The free-stall barns are flushed three times a day with re-use water. The water washes waste into a collection ditch at the lower end of the barn, which in turn carries it to a concrete lined holding tank. From the tank it is sprayed onto a hay field for irrigation. Here the grass absorbs the nutrients from the waste water, preventing them from seeping into the groundwater and minimizing the impact on the surrounding water table. The hay is then fed to the cows, which in turn produce milk. A large portion of the nutrients are removed from the site in the form of milk, and the process begins again. By recycling the waste water, Lecanto draws only a fraction of its allotted amount of fresh water, while maintaining a “nutrient balanced system.”
Today the Lecanto Diary exemplifies M&B’s commitment to excellence -- a state of the art model for environmentally friendly dairy farms in Florida.
Dale McClellan: We want to have a dairy farm that is a show place. We want to have a dairy farm that agriculture’s proud of. I feel like that if agriculture is going to continue in Florida we’ve got to learn to do better. If we don’t know how, like I didn’t know how, we have to hire people that can help us and we have to be very proactive in our industry.
The same proactive approach that McClellan used to develop the Lecanto dairy was applied to the family’s processing plant in Tampa. M&B’s original milk plant that had been in operation since the 1950s was squeezed out of the production market in 1979 by large companies. For years after it was forced to shut down, McClellan and his grandfather harbored a desire to reopen the plant. To do this, he knew the company would have to reinvent itself.
Following the advice of his mentors, he found his niche market in expanded product lines. New packaging includes innovative mini-sip pouches, which not only allow 40 percent more inventory per truckload, they reduce trash by about 2.3 million pounds a year. They can be flattened to a fraction of that of a can or bottle and can be recycled. They’re also a good source of fuel for trash burning power plants. M&B has also expanded beyond milk to include nearly 140 different products including shakes, fruit juices, and frozen juice bars. Since reopening, the plant continues to evolve, introducing new products and different ways to be profitable.
Having the plant operating has been an emotional issue for McClellan. It meant continuing a very important family tradition.
His family roots run deep in the dairy business. Both of his grandfathers owned dairies in Florida. Dale and his father were raised on the family farm. Dale’s mother was the bookkeeper for her family’s dairy. He met his wife, Mary, at his grandfather’s Sunny Brook Dairy Milk Plant. A short time after their marriage Dale and Mary started M&B Products as a continuation of Sunny Brook. The dairy has been in operation since the early 1950s, and is still a family-run business, now spanning four generations. Dale’s grandmother helps with approving and writing checks; Dale’s cousin, Rocky Lovelace, is part owner and M&B’s sales manager; and Dale and Mary’s sons work at the Lecanto dairy. A fifth generation is on its way to help carry on the family’s dairy tradition.
M&B Products is more than just a family business. It is a model for agriculture’s desire, determination and far sightedness to thrive well into the 21st century.
Dale McClellan: I think the future looks good for our family. I think that we need to eat. I think everybody in Florida needs to eat. And I think that there’s gonna be a demand for agriculture products, including dairy products. And so I think there’s gonna be a market there. And I think that dairies like ours will be a premium, that we can be proud of what we’ve built and that we can stand firm in the way we sell it.