Helping our customers succeed

Twice in one week, I heard comments that struck a chord with me and with the mission of Michigan State University Extension.

Last Friday, I had an opportunity to tour Sklarczyk’s Seed Farm, a family farming operation located near Johannesburg, Michigan, that specializes in the application of aseptic tissue-culture techniques to produce the first generation of potato tubers that eventually supply seed potatoes to commercial potato producers. The Sklarczyk farm is one of two in the nation that assure propagation of varieties with the desired genetic traits for the industry and in tubers that are verified as disease-free. The Sklarczyk farm was the first of the two to adopt the practices. The Sklarczyks’ work has hinged on the development of new varieties by Dr. David Douches, professor of plant, soil and microbial sciences at MSU, and a handful of other potato breeders in the United States. As fascinating as the technology is that the Sklarczyk farm uses, Benjamin Sklarczyk, who represents the third generation of his family in the business, made a statement that really caught my ear. He said that Sklarczyk’s Seed Farm exists in order to help their customers succeed. They want to provide the best quality seed for the seed potato growers they serve directly and the commercial growers that their customers serve.

One of the reasons that comment caught my ear is because I’ve heard the same comment from another business owner involved in the Michigan potato business, Todd Forbush, partner and vice president of Techmark, Inc. Techmark specializes in the design and construction of computerized ventilation systems for potato storage and for other agricultural crops. I have heard Todd make the same statement that I heard Benjamin Sklarczyk make: “My main goal is to help my customers be profitable and successful.” In fact, the mission statement for Techmark captures this: “To serve high quality agricultural producers, always striving to make the best producers better by combining high quality service and products with innovative ideas and training.”

And that sounds a lot like our own mission statement “to help people improve their lives through education” and the 4-H motto: “to make the best better.”

I was reminded of that connection between the Sklarczyk and Techmark mission statements in listening to one of our colleagues, Amy Irish-Brown, senior Extension educator, who was quoted in a radio news feature on Monday. You may remember that National Public Radio reporter Noah Adams produced a feature on the devastating crop loss that Michigan apple growers experienced last fall. He conducted a follow-up report this spring and his story was broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday this week. In listening to Amy’s cautions to growers at an update meeting, I can hear the same commitment to helping “customers succeed” in her comments as I’ve heard from Benjamin and Todd. In all of these cases, what makes for a successful operation – whether it’s a business or a service such as MSU Extension – is a commitment to serving others in a way that helps them to succeed. I consider myself fortunate to work with Extension professionals who live and breathe that ethos every day, and to work in partnership with businesses and industries like Benjamin’s and Todd’s that thrive on the same ethos.

That this merits commentary is further supported by this note from Amy about Mr. Adams’ decision to conduct a follow-up story on the apple industry in Michigan: “Mr. Adams tells me that in his 30 years of broadcasting and over 30,000 pieces, he has only done follow-up for a handful of stories over the years. I think he was impressed with the integrity of the Michigan apple industry and the people who make it successful – that’s why he came back to hear more.”

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