Ed Kiefer grew up on a 660-acre grain and livestock farm in southeast Iowa. He knew from an early age that he wanted to pursue a career in agriculture.

“I had the opportunity during my senior year at Iowa State University to interview for a farm management position,” said Kiefer, vice president and office manager for Hertz Farm Management, Inc. in Geneseo, Ill. “I got the job, moved to Illinois and that’s how I started in farm management.”

Currently in his 36th year of providing professional farm management services, real estate sales and acquisitions and agricultural consulting for clients across Illinois, Kiefer says he has enjoyed each and every day.

Over the years, Kiefer has met and conquered many challenges. He has kept his clients’ needs first, working side-by-side with them to deliver customized farming solutions. That hands-on approach and a relentless work ethic have helped his clients grow their businesses and meet their goals.

One of those clients, Harold Hutchinson of Hutchinson-English Farms L.P. in Princeton, Ill., has grown his farm from 600 acres to 1,500 acres with Kiefer’s help during their 28-year partnership. About 10 years ago, Hutchinson considered expanding the farm’s hog production facilities, but Kiefer pointed out a more profitable alternative.

“He penciled out each option to us, and we could see that we had a better opportunity with a different lease and not to take the risk of building a building right then,” said Hutchinson. The decision was to cash rent land and custom farm other land.

Along with custom farming came a need for increased grain storage. Under Kiefer’s guidance, two grain bins and a continuous flow dryer were installed. The additional storage allows the Hutchinson’s to market their crops when the time is right, helping maximize their profits.

Growing the farm was also a key objective to helping the Hutchinson’s meet their long-term legacy plan.

“We want to pass our farm to succeeding generations. We want it to remain in the family over many years,” said Hutchinson. “That kind of a view is required not only to pass it to succeeding generations, but to fulfill our commitment to soil and water conservation, which Ed has stressed from the beginning.”

Soil and water conservation is the foundation of Kiefer’s philosophy for managing a farm property.

“My goal is to leave the farm property better than I found it, and that would include installing tiling, improving drainage, putting in waterways and filter strips, planting trees, native grasses and flowers,” said Kiefer. “Whenever the farm is sold, or my career is in the sunset, I want to look back and say, ‘That farm is in much better shape than when I started managing it.’”

Another way he has accomplished this is by encouraging farm operators to invest in precision-farming technology.

“Precision-farming techniques have increased our yield and productivity,” said Steve Cowser, farm operator for Hutchinson-English Farms L.P. “The machines are more efficient in the way they operate because they’re controlled by GPS. There’s less overlap and less duplication of chemicals in between passes. All those things are cost savers, better for the environment and better for the crop.”

Ed Kiefer: 2011 Professional Farm Manager of the YearStaying up-to-date on the latest farming technologies and practices is a passion of Kiefer’s that hasn’t come without hard work, but Kiefer approached it with the commitment, persistence and diligence. It’s the same way he acquired his master’s in agronomy degree from the University of Illinois by taking one night class a week for five years.

“Through this study, I was better able to understand the physiology of a plant, and that has improved my ability to recommend properly-timed fertilizer and chemical applications, which has resulted in improved yields for farm owners,” said Kiefer.

Kiefer has never been afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to knowing his clients’ farming operations. He is known to carry a spade in his SUV so he can dig roots and share with clients and farm operators what is going on beneath the soil.

“One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t manage a farm sitting behind a desk. You need to be out in the country and get dirt on your boots,” said Kiefer. “As one client said, ‘Kiefer, you are my man on the ground, so you need to be out there seeing what the conditions are so you can make the decisions you need for the management of the farm property,’ and that’s what I do.”

He takes the same hands-on approach with input suppliers as well, sitting down with them before each season to put together a plan for maximum crop productivity. Kiefer is an early adopter proponent of the latest seed technology and genetics that help increase crop yields. He also recommends all appropriate crop protection product use as the situation justifies.

“I think what he and I share is the fact that we both want to do the very best job we can for our customers,” said Walt Eilers, agronomy account manager for River Valley Cooperative in Geneseo, Ill. “The more bushels they can grow, the more successful they can be.”

Ed Kiefer: 2011 Professional Farm Manager of the YearKiefer’s innovative approach to crop production is just one of the reasons he was selected as the 2011 Professional Farm Manager of the Year, his industry’s highest honor, which also recognizes dedication to clients and protection of the land.

“Syngenta recognizes the value professional farm managers bring to agriculture. As we move forward and have to grow more with less, farm managers will continue to lead with technology, with genetics and in land stewardship,” said Brent Rockers, district manager, Syngenta. “These are all important to the future of agriculture, and Syngenta would like to recognize farm managers as leading that role in the future.”

“Ed is a tremendous asset for our company,” said Loyd Brown, president, Hertz Farm Management, Inc. “One of the foundations of Ed’s success is he is very sincere and personable. He is always doing things in the best interest of his clients.”

Kiefer said he is humbled and honored and couldn’t have done it without his family’s support, particularly his wife Barb, who also grew up on a family farm. “She is one of the major reasons I am standing here today,” said Kiefer.

Kiefer was presented with the award at the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) 82nd annual convention and tradeshow, held Oct. 24-28 in Phoenix, Ariz.

To honor Kiefer for this achievement, Syngenta made a $500 donation in his name to Iowa State University to fund a scholarship for a student majoring in Agricultural Business and another $500 donation to the University of Illinois to fund a scholarship for a student majoring in Agronomy. 

“I would like to thank Syngenta, AgProfessional magazine and The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers for the 2011 Professional Farm Manager of the Year award,” said Kiefer. “Not only does it recognize my 36 years in the professional farm management industry, but also the things I do on a day-to-day basis for my clients, farm operators and for agriculture.”

To watch the award video honoring Ed Kiefer, visit www.youtube.com/SyngentaAgUS.