Gary Smith, foreground, celebrates with his family
Every year, at the NHA Convention, The National Hay Association acknowledges a member that has excelled in the forage industry. The chosen member is someone with integrity, someone who hurdles challenges with innovation and plenty of hard work, and someone who has enriched our organization. This year, on September 23rd at the annual banquet, Gary Smith was chosen as the 2023 Haymaker of the Year.
NHA's Haymaker is the youngest of 5 children.
As soon as he could walk, he started his career in farming by shadowing
and helping his dad. When he and his dad
would deliver hay, this young man would take over the driving when his dad got
tired. In fact, he pulled into a scale
one night in Nebraska and was told that he should wake up his dad to continue
the trip. Our haymaker was 11 years old!
bought his first truck when he graduated from high school at the age of
17. But he could not drive across the
state line until he was 21 and he was elected an NHA director in 1998.
In 1999, he was also named to the Board
of Directors of NFTA as one of the NHA representatives. And in 2003, he was named chair of the NFTA
representatives. During that time, our haymaker took a load of hay to Sioux
Falls for testing purposes and the hay standards were set based on that test. These standards are still used.
This NHA member has travelled to at
least 15 countries and he first went to Costa Rica in 1999 to meet some dairy
farmers that he met at World Dairy Expo.
In 2002 and 2003 he helped man the NHA booth at
Agro-Mexico, and it was in 2002 that he and Bob Humpal famously set out to find
where tequila was produced and purchase a quantity to ship home. They hired a taxi cab driver that spoke
English, and told him what they wanted to do. After about 40 miles going over
sand and gravel roads and hills, they came to this little village with
cobblestone roads. The driver stopped to talk to two young boys who came along
to show them where tequila grows and two alcohol manufacturing plants. After
sampling and purchasing a few bottles of tequila, they headed back to the
the way home, they came upon a road blocked by the Mexican army. They thought
“There goes the tequila and we are going to end up in jail?
driver told them to keep their mouths shut. He would do the talking and they
should do what he said. They were told
to step outside, and they did. That’s when two Mexican Army soldiers pointed
their machine guns at them while the others searched their car. You can imagine
what was going through their minds. The cab driver told them, let’s go. Finally,
they asked the cab driver why they were stopped, he said they were Gringos (white guys)
suspected of smuggling guns and drugs.
They didn’t care about the tequila!
finally arrived back at the hotel safe but a few minutes late for the evening
meal. Bob Humpal said he never wanted to go back to Mexico and he still has the
two bottles of tequila.
haymaker has only been married one time.
It was a wedding organized by the NHA and he married his bride, Gary
Freeburg. That marriage remains in
He was elected President in 2009 and
by then, he had met, Joni Lowe. His
winter meeting was at the Tamarindo Diva Resort in Costa Rica and his
convention was at Cadillac Jack's Gaming Resort in Deadwood, SD. The hotel was
a bit small and the banquet was held in the parking garage. Joni helped him with decorations and
He rarely missed NHA meetings and for
many years, he stocked and organized the hospitality suite at the conventions.
The haymaker never had any children
but he has taken a local young man under his wing and is allowing him to farm
his land. He and Joni spend most of his
time at their home in Costa Rica these days,
He became an Honorary Member of the
NHA in 2021 and now he becomes the 2023 Haymaker of the Year, Gary Smith.
Please join us in Congratulating Gary Smith and thanking him for his service and support of the NHA!
The Haymaker of the Year Award was created and sponsored by Kemin Industries in the early 1980′s Members were asked for nominations at the awards banquet annually. In the early 1990′s, the NHA Board of Directors created the Haymaker Award Committee to continue the tradition.