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Potato farmers’ conservation nabs Michigan FB award

By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

 
JOHANNESBURG, Mich. — A farmer from Otsego County won the Michigan Farm Bureau’s Ecology Leadership Award last week at the group’s annual meeting.

Don and Ben Sklarczyk, along with spouses Mary Kay and Allison, received a prize of a John Deere CX Gator, compliments of Voelker Implement Sales of Lake City and Big Rapids, the Hamilton County Farm Bureau, Harvey’s Ag Solutions, Syngenta Crop Protection, CJD Farm Consulting and Dennings & Associates.

“It was a tremendous honor for us to be recognized,” Don Sklarczyk said. “It’s very humbling for us.”

Sklarczyk said this was even more meaningful because there are many farmers in the state performing a lot of innovative practices deserving of recognition.

Sklarczyk Seed Farm produces seed potatoes in a hydroponic greenhouse, supplying more than 75 percent of the base seed potatoes for Frito Lay. They also grow wheat and soybeans on 500 acres. The Sklarczyks have done a number of innovative, environmentally friendly and efficient practices at their operation.
Among them was the development of a practice to receive and use waste oil. Sklarczyk said it began when they noticed some neighbors took their waste oil and spread it out on the dirt roads. Although he said there probably isn’t anything harmful in the near term with that practice, he felt there must be a better way to dispose of it.

The first step was to become qualified to be a drop-off site for used oil. After they were certified by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, they began to receive the oil and hold it in an appropriate tank. They ended up buying several heating systems designed to burn waste oil.

“The BTUs that you receive from used oil is very high,” he said.
Over several months the waste oil settles in a tank, with the light, usable oil staying on top and the heavy, contaminated material settling to the bottom. After it separates the Sklarczyks remove the good oil and use it to run their heating systems.

Erosion control has also been a lifelong problem at the Sklarczyks’ property, where Don has resided since he was a boy. Every year, he said, part of a local road would be washed out by runoff from wetlands that would drain into nearby Denny Lake, polluting it with excessive amounts of sediment. Repairing the washed-out part of the road with new dirt was a yearly ritual.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Soil Conservation District devised plans to solve this problem. Sklarczyk and one of his neighbors helped implement the plans.

He complimented the services, explaining that he could count on their plans working well. They built several basins, or holding areas, which are located on Sklarczyk’s property. These provide space and time for runoff to go to so it won’t flow across the road and go into the lake too fast.

“We’re using that marsh area as a sponge. We’re allowing the runoff to percolate into the soil itself,” he said.

The Sklarczyk are also using technology to make their operation more environmentally friendly and profitable at the same time. Their farm, located in the northern part of the state, is surrounded by woods and is subject to a great deal of pressure from wildlife. Sklarczyk began using a GPS system to measure the productivity of the acreage he uses for food crops.

He discovered on certain portions of his acreage, it costs more to grow and harvest the crop than he can get out of it. As a result of this, he allows some of these areas to go unused. These acres have in turn provided shelter for some of the wildlife and additional areas where they can feed. As a result, he said there is less pressure on his food crops from wildlife.

Sklarczyk said his erosion control and other environmental efforts at the farm “started a generation before myself, with my father and my neighbors. The work is never done, it’s ongoing.”

12/10/2008