Owners: Keith and Leeanna Baer
Location: Summer, Ark.
History: “At the time we bought the company, my wife Leeanna and I were in the dairy business and decided to go into the hauling business so producers, including us, had a way to get their milk to the plants,” Keith Baer, owner of L&K Farms said. “In 2001, I bought the business from Keith Pearson. We purchased the routes and territory as well as two trucks. Though through time milk hauling has changed with companies going with whoever is cheapest. Over the years, I bought out all of the milk haulers in the area. We continue hauling milk though we closed our dairy 12 years ago due to dropping milk prices. At the time we purchased the business, Keith (Pearson) was hauling for Kraft Foods. Then Kraft quit buying farm milk and we hauled milk for another company before that company was absorbed by DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) about eight years ago. Our oldest son Joe came back to help and works the routes with four other specialized milk haulers; we deeply appreciate. I hope to return to work after I recover from a recent heart attack. The thing I like best about the business is visiting with the producers while the milk is loading. Nonetheless, when I’m driving between stops, I think about all the things I should be doing on the farm, where we now raise commercial beef.”
How the Process Works: “Hauling milk is a seven-day-a-week business with payment based upon the hundredweight. I normally deliver to the Highland Dairy in Fayetteville though I occasionally go to Fort Smith or Springfield, Mo. We have seven routes with 25 dairies in various locations covering a large area, including Locust Grove and Tahlequah in Oklahoma and Maysville, Bentonville and Evansville in Arkansas. We now pick up from fewer dairies but traveling significantly more territory than when we started. In the beginning we had 27 dairies in a 10-mile radius, but dairies closed due to dropping milk prices and producers finding easier ways to make money. Depending upon the route, the trucks leave the farm between 4 and 8 a.m., with a typical day lasting 10 to 12 hours. Most of the small dairies are about an hour apart from barn to barn. Our largest dairy produces 52,000 pounds of milk every other day.”
Philosophy and Future: “This business is no different than any other. It’s important to be honest, fair and kind. Because the dairy industry is in flux, the future is far from certain but I’m hoping that my son will one day take over for me.”