SD corn, bean farmer has alter ego as ‘that mat guy’
A South Dakota corn and soybean farmer creates his own off-farm enterprise, selling work mats that farmers can use in the field to stay clean and organized.
DELL RAPIDS, S.D. — Gary Haak is a full-time farmer, yes, but increasingly is enjoying a role as “that mat guy” at ag trade shows in the region, including the recent 40th Big Iron farm trade show in West Fargo, N.D.
Haak, 53, grew up on a farm at Dell Rapids, S.D., about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls, where he graduated high school in 1985. The third of four siblings, he went to the University of Minnesota-Crookston. He worked summers on a custom combining crew and graduated in diversified ag in 1988.
In 1989 he returned home to rent farmland from an uncle and got started using equipment from his dad, Gerald. Today, he farms 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans. In 1990, he married Thelma, who works in medical records in Sioux Falls, S.D. They have three daughters — all studying nursing.
Early in his career, Haak took off-farm jobs at local grain elevators. In 2012 he started working trade shows, helping others sell machinery. At the shows, he'd met Montie and Grethe Beyer, of Osage, Minn., owners of High Plains Industries of Osage, Minn., makers of Snirt Stopper, "The Ultimate Garage Door Seal."
Three years ago, Haak came up with an idea for a flexible mat with numerous farm uses. The Beyers made the mats for him, using heavy-duty 18-mill vinyl, with polyurethane closed-cell foam, and a lip around the edges.
He called it the “Ultimate Mat" at a winter farm show in 2018. Haak makes different sizes, but the most common is a 4-by-6-foot vinyl mat he calls the "Farmer's Helper” — rolled up into a ball and easily stowed behind the seat of a tractor or pickup.
A farmer doing equipment work in the field could lie on the ground without getting muddy. They could put tools or bolts on top of it without fear of losing them. They could keep rain out of an auger.
"I use it under my planter in the field, under a central-fill planter, to catch seed when it falls," Haak said.
After Big Iron, he focused on the harvest. As of Oct. 7, all of Haak's soybeans were harvested and the corn harvest was underway. But Haak acknowledges he was looking forward to all of the mat chats he hopes to have in the winter.
"It's fun to meet new people and it's getting to the point where people are coming back and saying, 'I like that mat, I use it all the time,'” he said.
In 2021, he expects to be at the Dakota Farm Show , in Vermillion, S.D., Jan. 5-7; the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Farm Show , Jan. 27-29, and the Watertown Winter Farm Show, Feb. 10-13.