Growing up on a grain and livestock farm in western Illinois, Steve Myers, accredited farm manager (AFM), felt a passion for agriculture he knew would lead him along life's journey.

That journey led him to Illinois State University where he earned a degree in agriculture education. Then it guided him to Blue Ridge High School in Farmer City, Ill., where he began his career in agriculture as a vocational education instructor.

His journey continued to McLean County Service Company FS where he served as crops specialist and plant manager. Then it brought him to the place he's called home for nearly 20 years-Busey Ag Services in LeRoy, Ill., as a professional farm manager.

"Steve's progression from educator to agronomist to farm manager has developed him into one of the most trusted regional experts by colleagues in the industry," said David Klein, AFM with Soy Capital Ag Services in nearby Bloomington, Ill., who is a friendly competitor of Steve's. "Anyone can go out and write a lease, but few people can positively impact agriculture in the manner in which Steve does."

Myers' impact spans far and wide across nearly 16,000 acres in Central Illinois that he manages for 66 clients. But it doesn't end there. His circle of influence in the agricultural community is extended by his involvement in numerous ag-related boards and associations and through his monthly column in the profit-planning section of Prairie Farmer magazine.

In addition to professional farm management, Myers is also a licensed real estate agent and certified crop advisor (CCA). He also oversees Busey's on-farm research program, which keeps him on the cutting edge of agriculture.

"Through our on-farm research, we test new hybrids, varieties and cultural practices," Myers said. "But I feel the real innovators are the farmers with whom I work who continue to push the envelope in productivity."

Farm operators say they appreciate Myers not only for the expertise he provides on the land they farm for the client, but also because he doesn't draw "artificial lines" that end at farm boundaries.

"Steve's knowledge and innovative ideas benefit the acres I farm for the landowner he represents, but they benefit me on the other acres I farm as well," said Mike McLaughlin of McLaughlin-Dooley Farms in LeRoy, Ill. "He really seems to strike a good balance between being fair to the operator and fair to the owner. He's got his boots on the ground out here. He doesn't operate from a desk."

Clients say the good working relationships Myers develops with farm operators and his innovative ideas are just two of many reasons they chose Myers as their farm manager.

"I live in Minnesota, but my family's farmlands are in central Illinois. After my parents passed away, I knew I needed a farm manager," said John Beecher, a client of Myers. "I knew about Busey Ag Services, and when I asked around to other landowners and farmers in the area, it was always Steve's name that came up as the one I should go to."

Beecher said he's known since he hired Myers as his professional farm manager in 1998 that he made the right choice.

"There were several conservation projects I needed done on my farm, but they kept getting delayed," Beecher said. "As soon as Steve came along, those projects were implemented and other innovations were applied, which have really helped boost my bottom line."

Myers credits his farm background and owning farmland himself with helping him learn to relate to landowners and anticipate their needs.

"I pay the bills on my own farm, and I treat my owners' farms just like I treat my own farm," Myers said. "So whether it's farmland value going up or down or corn prices going up or down, I think it's great for those owners to know that it affects me directly just like it affects them."

Myers' colleagues say they've never seen anybody work as hard for their clients as he does.

"What has always amazed me is the number of people who rely on his information and how he will drop what he's doing to visit at length with people," said Tom Wiggins, AFM, and fellow professional farm manager at Busey Ag Services. "He's a very busy man, and I've never heard him say no to anybody."

It is this unwavering commitment to his clients, farm operators, colleagues, family and friends and dedication to the most precious commodity-land-that have resulted in Steve Myers being chosen 20Professional Farm Manager of the Year. This award is the most prestigious award in the farm management industry and is sponsored each year by Syngenta, AgProfessional magazine and ASFMRA.

"Steve Myers is not only an exceptional farm manager, but he's also a great ambassador for agriculture," said Brent Rockers, marketing manager for Syngenta. "This industry needs people like Steve who are committed to keeping the passion for agriculture alive for future generations. We are proud to honor him and his accomplishments."

Myers says he is humbled to join the ranks of others who have been honored with the Professional Farm Manager of the Year award during its 22-year history.

"I feel like the beauty queen contestant who says, 'It's just an honor to be nominated,'" Myers said. "It's a nice validation for me to say, 'Hey, keep going. Somebody does notice; your peers do notice.' It's a nice honor. I'm very proud and very happy."

But Myers is not one to rest on his laurels. A self-described "cows, sows and plows kind of guy," he is already hard at work preparing for next year's growing season to make sure he "gets it right" for his clients.

"Agriculture for farmers and farm managers is one of those few jobs where when you look at an entire crop, spring to fall, if I have a career of 40 years, I get 40 chances," Myers said. "I had one shot at this year's crop. And I've only got one shot at next year's crop. This is something I only get to try about 40 times, and you want to get it right."

Mary Haines is employed by Gibbs and Soell, and she coordinates the Professional Farm Manager of the Year program.