(Left) The Hapka family, (l-r) Leon, Lance, Katrina, and Jean Hapka, along with Lance and Katrina’s children – Luke, Zoey, Mara, and Levi, receiving the National Potato Council’s Environmental Stewardship Award at the annual meeting in Orldando Fla. The Hapka’s own HFC, INC, a potato farm north of Halma, Minn. (Right) Lance holds his daughter at the National Potato Council’s Envirpmental Stewardship Award banquet. (Photos Submitted)
By Linda Andersen
County awards are nice, state awards even better and national awards still better. One Kittson County Family recently received one of those rare, national awards.
The National Potato Council, at their 2018 annual meeting, held January 12 in Orlando, Florida, presented the 2017 Environmental Stewardship Award to HFC, INC of Halma, Minnesota. The Hapkas (Leon and Jean along with their son, Lance, and his wife, Katrina) own HFC, INC, which is a potato farm located north of Halma.
Justin Dagen who along with sons, Brooks and Sander, grows potatoes in Southern Kittson County offered some comments on why he feels the Hapkas are deserving of the recognition. He said that soon after the Hapka Family began farming in the county in the early 1990’s, he “noticed the innovative cultural practices including tile drainage and the extensive use of cover crops.” He went on to say, “These practices, along with others were very positive for crop production as well as overall environmental stewardship. Leon, Lance, and Jennifer are champions of soil health and are to be commended on their excellent conservation practices.”
Justin added that “the award is a component of the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program, a partnership between NPC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promote the environment and promote the safe and effective use of pesticides.”
Lance Hapka offered some information about the Hapka’s farming history and the Hapka Family. He said his parents, Leon and Jean, “were dry land producers specialized in potato seed production near Argyle, Minnesota where they raised their family. In 1995, they started producing irrigated processing potatoes in Halma, Minnesota for JR Simplot. In time, all production was shifted to the Halma area.”
Regarding who does what on the farm, Lance offered the following explanation. “Leon and I are primary managers along with my sister Jennifer Borowicz. We all have input to decisions on the farm. I see to the day to day operations throughout the year. Katrina does payroll and keeps my sanity in check. Jennifer is the office manager. She also does our GAP certification, water sampling, Simplot reporting, and is there anytime needed. She is the only person that can fill in any position and do a good job. Example: First day of potato harvest I cut my head going under a conveyor…Jennifer jumped in the new potato harvester and I gave her operational instructions over the phone on the way to the hospital. We have four full-time employees and hire around six extra seasonal employees.”
Lance offered information on the Hapka’s farming practices. He said they grow 750 acres of potatoes which are contracted with JR Simplot of Grand Forks. “All other farm activities are managed based on the effect to the potato crop. For instance, we grow corn for its residue and soil health building which leads to better potatoes…Right before we harvest potatoes, we spread cereal rye on the field which gets incorporated by harvest activity. Our potatoes are harvested green…so vines hold soil while the rye is established. The following spring, corn is seeded into the rye with minimal tillage, followed by another corn crop and potatoes again. The corn material left controls erosion during potato crop development. Also, we are always ready to spread straw in areas and often do to assist in the erosion control and soil health.”
“Every acre cropped is irrigated by central pivot…We selective drainage tile areas which has a major effect on crop quality and assists in water erosion. We have a high water table which makes it very efficient for pumping irrigation water (do not have to lift water very high). We have high volume irrigators, which, with good management, allow us to irrigate during low evaporation periods, like at night. We installed sprinkler section controls on irrigators to prevent over watering areas in the field that do not need extra water. Irrigation rates are based on area of field requirements and vary throughout the field by controlling irrigator speed as it goes around the field. Irrigation pumps are controlled by variable frequency drives.”
Regarding fertilizer and pest and weed control, Lance said, in part, “No fall fertilizer is applied and very little is applied in the spring. Most fertilizer is applied in season based on conditions. The rye cover crop preserves nutrients and has an allopathic suppression on weeds.” He added that they control pests with “rotation, crop practices, and seed selection.” He said “lots and lots of scouting” is a part of their farm practice.
Regarding the future of HFC, INC, it sounds as if they plan to get better and better. Lance said that besides continuing the project of moving the farm headquarters from Argyle to Halma, they plan to keep on making improvements. “We plan to continue to test economical ways of improving soil health and maximize yields. We are going to incorporate equipment to monitor soil moisture levels throughout root areas to maximize irrigation efficiency. We also plan to install advance rate and section controls for irrigation systems to better control soil moisture levels in variable soil types within the field for improved potato quality. And, hopefully, there will be some land development opportunity presented down the road to increase our crop rotation (increase years of other crops between potatoes on fields).”
The National Potato Council has created a great video about the Hapka Farm. To view it, do a Google search for “NPC 2017 Environmental Stewardship Award Winner.”