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Phillips

MENAN — As a child digging in the dirt, Preston Skaar probably never dreamed he would base a business around his childhood activity. With East Idaho Mini Excavator Services, the Menan man is exploiting a niche market and steadily building a profitable company.

Skaar deliberately focused on canal and ditch work when he started out in 2014. Based on experience growing up in his family’s farming and livestock operations — combined with a fascination with farm equipment — he saw a need for someone to help farmers maintain irrigation canals.

When construction companies get busy it is difficult for them to take time out to do canal maintenance.

“It is nice to have someone around who caters to the farmer,” Skaar said. “Some of the small farmers don’t have backhoes.”

With a banker “willing to take a chance on me,” Skaar took out a loan to purchase a mini excavator. He knew he couldn’t go head to head with the large excavation companies. By focusing on the smaller jobs — most of his invoices were for $300 to $400 the first year — he addressed a need and friends in larger companies sent him jobs they didn’t have time for.

He turned a profit from the start. He has added a track skid-steer and a backhoe to his stock of equipment and expanded his construction repertoire to include new construction and septic systems.

Agricultural work is his main focus, however. He currently maintains systems for five canal companies in addition to private farmers.

Skaar has learned is trade by doing.

“I trained my eye and brain to see grade,” he said. “You have to understand what you are trying to get the water to do.”

Water follows the path of least resistance and silt bars build up over time, blocking water flow in the canals. Proper maintenance can reduce watering time. Skaar said some of his clients have seen their watering time cut in half after he worked on their canal systems.

These kind of results benefit everybody down line and — when applied to an entire system — can reduce labor, improve yields and keep water in the system as storage or for the canal company to sell he said.

While his agricultural degree helped him somewhat with the company, Skaar said he is constantly fine-tuning his business model.

“We didn’t have too many oh-ohs,” he said. “Having a good accountant helps.”

Skaar puts in long hours as the boss and the company’s sole worker.

“Nobody is going to do it for you,” he said. “I am building something for myself.”

His advice for other entrepreneurs?

“Mainly, start with a goal and don’t be afraid to go out and accomplish that goal.”

Preston Skaar of East Idaho Mini Excavator Services can be contacted at 208-709-3543 or at IdahoDirtDigger@gmail.com. The company offers free estimates and site consultations on irrigation, canal and ditch work, brush removal, new construction, septic systems, grading and skid steer work. More information and reviews can be found on the company’s Facebook page.

Photojournalist Linda Phillips has 25 years experience as a journalist, photographer, copy editor and graphic designer. To contact her, email Farm & Ranch Managing Editor Bill Bradshaw at freditor @postregister.com.

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