SPONSORED: Custom applicators play a key role in supporting U.S. agriculture. Farmers depend on timely, accurate applications of fertilizer and crop protection products to maximize their crop production.

It’s a job that requires long hours in the field, skill in operating sophisticated application equipment and the ability to adapt to the latest technologies designed to improve application precision and efficiency.  

Given the cost of crop inputs, and with harvest results on the line, farmers need to have confidence in the expertise and service of their custom applicators. Top professional operators say building trust with their customers is the key to a successful partnership.

For custom applicator Tony Randolph of Southern States Cooperative in Farmville, N.C., the foundation of that trust is establishing good communications with his customers upfront.

“Customers should ask their applicators as many questions as they can think of, so they understand what is being done and why,” says Randolph, who was honored as the 2013 Operator of the Year by AGCO Application Equipment. The annual program, now in its ninth year, is designed to recognize the best custom applicators throughout the U.S. and Canada.

For example, Randolph says farmers should talk with their applicators to know what products are being applied on each field, at what rate and the spread pattern. It’s also helpful for the applicator to know the previous year’s yield, he adds, and what, if anything, the farmer is doing differently in the current season to increase yield. 

To further build confidence, Randolph has invited customers to ride in his cab to understand the operation of his spreader.  He also encourages customers to watch the first several passes to confirm that the spread pattern is correct.

Glen Slabaugh, a 38-year application professional with Clunette Elevator Co. in Leesburg, Ind., was named AGCO’s Operator of the Year for 2012, with high rankings for his customer service. “It’s a matter of trust, and we’ve worked with the same customers for a number of years,” says Slabaugh, who has applied over a million total acres in his career. “That’s why I always try to treat every field as if it were my own.”   

Slabaugh says having the right information is essential, especially from new customers. “A lot of fields are identified by numbers, so one of the key things is to make sure that the right product is applied in the right field,” he notes. “It’s also important to have the farmer’s phone number on the order in case a question arises while we’re in his field.”

Nominations Open for 2014 Operator of the Year

AGCO is now accepting nominations for the 2014 Operator of the Year program. Only ag retailers can actually nominate their custom applicators for the honor. However, this year, AGCO is encouraging farmers who want to show appreciation and trust for their operator to contact that applicator’s retailer to suggest that he or she be nominated.  The nomination deadline is Oct. 24

“Each year, we are impressed by the caliber of nominees who demonstrate tremendous commitment to their customers and take great pride in their work,” says Mark Sharitz, director of marketing for AGCO Application Equipment. “The Operator of the Year program lets custom applicators know just how much they are valued and appreciated by their retailers and farmer customers.” 

A panel of AGCO judges will select four finalists from among this year’s nominees, based on their skill, customer service and overall dedication to their profession, as well as community involvement. The finalists will be invited to attend the 2014 Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) Annual Conference and Expo to be held Dec. 2-4 in New Orleans. There, the Operator of the Year winner will be announced and awarded a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. All nominees for the prestigious award receive a certificate of recognition.

AGCO produces the RoGator family of self-propelled sprayers and TerraGator self-propelled high- floatation spreaders. However, Operator of the Year is open to all ag retailers and custom applicators throughout North America, regardless of the machine brands in their application fleets.

 To learn more about the Operator of the Year program and view past winners, visit www.applylikeapro.com.