Potato Farm With Northern Michigan Roots Reaching Across Continents

Sixty percent of the potato chips made in the United States come from potatoes grown right here in Northern Michigan.

It all starts at Sklarczyk Seed Farm in Johannesburg.

“The greenhouse operation is something my father started in the early 80’s and my father grew up on the diversified farming operation and he was looking for a way to make a batter potato and that led him to the tissue culture lab and the greenhouse operation and it’s grown and evolved from there,” said CEO of Sklarczyk Seed Farm, Ben Sklarczyk.

Once the Sklarczyk family perfected the potato – it was time to perfect the technology they use.

“Now our facility is 100% hydroponics so we are growing our potatoes without the presence of soil,” he explained.

It allows them to check in on the potatoes regularly since they’re not buried in the soil.

“The process starts with the tissue culture lab on the cutting process and at that point we will get plants from different plant breeders from different universities throughout the United States,” he said.

They cut the plants above the node to make more genetically identical plants.

Then they’re planted right here.

Once the potatoes grow — this bay alone will yield an impressive amount.

“Each time the staff goes through and harvests this location, they will harvest and pick roughly 20,000 potatoes,” Sklarczyk said.

Right now is harvesting season.

When these potatoes reach proper size…

“It’s about the size of a grape or cherry tomato,” he said.

Then the potatoes head to the conditioning room for 14 days to set its skin and get ready for long term storage because these are next year’s potatoes.

Until then — it’s time to rinse and repeat.

“We’ll go through and harvest 20-30 potatoes off each plant throughout he growing cycle and then the plant has reached its maturity,” he said.

Fast forward a year from now when all the potatoes picked today will be graded.

One last look — before they’re shipped all over the world.

“We have a number of customers throughout the United States ranging from customers who bag potatoes, so if you go to Meijer or Kroger or Walmart, you could buy bags of potatoes that may have originated from here,” he explained.

With 104 potato varieties here, there’s a 60 percent chance you’ve already eaten one of these potatoes.

“Some of the main customers we have are some of our chip companies throughout Michigan and the United States, some of the regional chip companies like Better Made and Great Lake Chip will end up getting our product four years from now,” he said.

And if you haven’t yet – they may end up in your next happy meal.

“We have russet burbank, which will then turn into french fries, some of them may end up at McDonald’s or other restaurants to turn into fries,” he said.

Ben has put in a lot of time to help the family farm grow, and help the potatoes grow, but one type of growth at Sklarczyk Seed Farm touches his heart in a different way.

“Also to see the growth and development of the team itself and to see some of the young individuals working with us from high school until the time they graduate college and to see their growth and development, that’s one of the most rewarding things about what we do is watching people grow, not only plants,” he said.

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