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Cream of the Crop

November 2, 2011
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
Cream of the crop 1
Technology helps position Jake Clark, who farms with his father, Pete, and brother Peter, for a successful future. The Clarks plant and harvest their corn and soybean crops using variable-rate technology, GPS guidance and yield monitors.   

An appreciation of the past helps this Michigan farmer lead into the future

Michigan was a rugged frontier in 1835, with official statehood more than a year off, when Jonas Clark made his way to what is now Clinton County. He lay claim to 85 acres of gently rolling farm ground fringed by forest. Six generations and 175 years later, members of the Clark family still own and live in the white clapboard house that Jonas built along the now graveled Clark Road. They still proudly work the same ground he tilled then, thanks to the steady-handed leadership provided by 33-year-old Jake Clark.

Clark shoulders the responsibilities of the diversified farm with a mixture of pride and gratitude. He is quick to acknowledge his father, Pete, as the person responsible for growing the once small farm to its current robust 10,000 acres of corn and soybeans.

Together, they have worked to expand the farm acreage, 15% of which they own and 85% lease.

"My grandpa Leon was a successful general contractor—one of the top 100 in the country at one time—and he bought 800 acres, which is what helped my dad get his start," Jake says.

The Clarks purchased more land in the early 1980s and began leasing ground too. Today, they work with more than 100 landowners.

In addition to crops, Jake and his dad have added complimentary business enterprises, including a corn and soybean seed dealership; custom planting and harvest; snow removal; lawn care; and custom anhydrous ammonia applications.

Jake notes that the family’s farm and business successes have much to do with its 15 full-time employees. Three have worked for the Clark family for more than 30 years and can recall Jake’s birth. Earning the respect of those men, he says, was one of the greatest challenges he faced when he started farming full-time in 2000.

"They’d put their heart and soul into this place, so I knew it was going to be tough," he says. "They treated me like Joe Shmoe, just like they would’ve treated anyone else. I shoveled, and I washed, and I listened, and I still find myself doing those things. That’s how you earn your

keep around here."

Clark faced other pitfalls that would have derailed someone with less determination and fortitude. He struggled to read, write and spell as a youth and eventually was diagnosed with dyslexia. Even today, it sometimes rears its head unexpectedly.

"Don’t take any pictures of that ammonia tank over there; I misspelled ammonia," he says, cocking his head in the direction of the white anhydrous ammonia tanks lined up outside one of the machine sheds.

Cream of the crop 2
A diversified operation helps spread risk and even out cash flow, says Jake Clark (center). That strategy included adding a Pioneer seed dealership. With Clark are seed salesmen Jamie Rincker (left) and Bill Campbell, both of St. Johns, Mich.

Family Bonds. Jake is the proverbial middle child, flanked on both sides by brothers. Younger brother Curtis lives in Los Angeles, bartends, writes comic books and hopes to eventually develop screenplays for Hollywood. Older brother L. Peter Clark III currently farms with Jake and their dad and is finishing law school. He is the most eloquent of the three men.

"I’ve never won an argument with him," Jake admits with a laugh.

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