Michigan to Send Three to PILI

January 21, 2015

Michigan will have three participants in the national industry’s annual leadership-training program next month. They are Kevin Storm of Walther Farms, Scott Payton of Sklarczyk Seed Farm and Adam Novello of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission staff.

The Syngenta sponsored event is the Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI), a joint effort of the National Potato Council and the U.S. Potato Board scheduled for Feb. 19-26. The host state this year is Washington, and PILI attendees will begin their week at Spokane, then tour a number of potato operations in the Columbia Basin before flying out of Pasco to Washington, DC.

Crammed into the PILI agenda are various training sessions on leadership development as well as lectures and briefings in Washington, DC on legislative and regulatory issues facing the potato industry. PILI participants also get a chance to visit the offices of their state delegations in company with other state growers to familiarize Congressional staff members with industry concerns.

Of the Michigan contingent, Kevin Storm has had the longest experience in agriculture. He joined Walther Farms in 1999 when it was still operated by the second generation as L. Walther & Sons, Inc., headquartered at Clio on the original farm started by Flint auto worker Leonard Walther. Storm grew up on his own family farm near Caro in the Thumb producing field crops and hogs as well as sugar beets and dry beans. Storm is now the farm manager of the 1,550 acres of potatoes in the company’s mid-Michigan production area and is based in Cass City. In 2013 Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him a member of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission as a representative of the chip sector. Storm says, “I’ve been blessed with more opportunities than I could have ever imagined within Walther Farms and this industry.”

Scott Payton, a native of Gaylord, came into agriculture in 2012 when Don Sklarczyk persuaded him to join the rapidly expanding tissue-culture seed operation near Johannesburg. Payton had embarked on a career in construction and excavating in Gaylord six years earlier, but two years ago this spring he began applying his expertise building Sklarczyk Seed Farm’s second five-bay glasshouse. Currently Payton is involved in a lab addition plus a new office building with storage and cooler space, and he also has broad responsibilities in maintenance, daily operations and mini-tuber shipping, The farm’s production capacity is now 5 million seed potatoes shipped annually to customers in North and South America and the Middle East.

Novello joined the Michigan Potato Industry Commission in September 2013 after getting potato experience helping in field trials at Michigan State University. His Commission position is business/program manager, which includes consumer and outreach programs and the expansion into social-media promotions of Michigan potatoes. He says he is looking forward to the PILI experience and meeting a host of potato growers from around the nation as well as getting a close look at production, packing and processing aspects of the potato industry.

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