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National Hay Association

"Not for Self, but for All"

2023 Haymaker of the Year

Gary Smith


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!

He 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 hotel.

On 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?

The 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!

They 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.

The 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 Limbo. 

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 organization.

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.

Haymaker of the Year Award Recipients

2022-Carl Blackmer

2021- Greg Braun

2020-John B. Randall

2019 - Dr. Garry Lacefield

2018 - John Russell

2017 - Raymond Bricker

2016 - Mike Aeschliman
2015 – E. J. Croll
2014 – Rollie Bernth
2013 – Don Kieffer
2012 – David Fink
2011 – Ed Hall
2010 – Richard Larsen
2009 – Jeff Plourd
2008 – Tom Creech

2007 – Harlan Miller

2006 – John Terleckey

2005 – Raymond Oates
2004 – Kenneth Morrison
2003 – Ronald Adams
2002 – Stan Steffen
2001 – Charles Roff
2000 – Gary Freeburg
1999 – Eddie Eckenberg
1998 – Jerry Keegan
1997 – Kent Doke
1996 – John W. Wilson

1995 – Edward Ort
1994 – Lorne Niemann
1993 – Lloyd Eldred, Jr.
1992 – Dick Spears
1991 – Linus Vanderloop
1990 – Robert Horton
1989 – Glendon Everett
1988 – Ezra Raisch
1987 – Melvin Bryant
1986 – Neil Cousino
1985 – Ron Anderson


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