Four custom applicators have been selected by AGCO Application Equipment as finalists for 2014 Operator of the Year, an honor that recognizes them as being among the top professionals in their industry throughout North America.

Nominated by their agri-retailers based on their overall professionalism, customer service and support for their communities, the four finalists are: 

Jerry Deese, with Gill Custom Application in Marion, Ark., is recognized for his dedication and excellent customer service. “His extensive knowledge of commercial application is second to none,” said Richie Gill, owner of Gill Custom Application. “Jerry treats every customer as if they were his family.”

Deese, a 25-year application veteran who covers 50,000 to 60,000 acres per year, said it is a thrill to be a finalist. “It’s truly one of the best honors I have ever had,” said Deese, who has applied over a million total acres in his career. “It’s a blessing for me to be chosen in the top four from all the operators nominated.”

Jeff Hammond, with Crop Production Services in Henderson, Mich., was nominated for his unmatched dedication and work ethic. “Our customers continue to request Jeff for their spreading or spraying needs,” said Michael Benkert, CPS manager. “Certain customers buy inputs solely because they know he will be doing the custom application on their farms.”

With 34 years of application experience, Hammond covers 25,000 acres per year and also handles repairs and fabrication in the shop. “Applicators don’t get a lot of recognition for the work we do, so being named a finalist is really cool,” Hammond said. “I didn’t believe it at first.”

Brent Klein, with Simplot Grower Solutions in Ashton, Idaho, is praised for his focus on timely, quality work and strong customer relationships. “Growers demand Brent be the guy who does their applications, leading to customer loyalty and satisfaction,” said Steve Hansen, Simplot Grower Solutions manager/certified crop adviser. “Special care is taken to do a professional job, even on the longest and hardest days and weeks.”

A 17-year application veteran, Klein applies up to 38,000 acres per year in a large territory that includes parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and also performs product research and training. “It’s nice to be recognized,” Klein said. “There are a lot of deserving applicators, and I didn’t think I would be included in the final four. It’s awesome!”

Jeff Morris, with United Prairie LLC in Hammond, Ill., is described as a meticulous applicator who listens to customers to meet their needs and wants. “He knows the customers by first name and they know him,” said Mark Lewis, United Prairie location manager. “I rely heavily on Jeff’s knowledge and expertise.”

Morris has been a custom applicator for 19 years and currently covers 44,000 acres per year in addition to handling training and equipment maintenance records. “I’m very honored to be in the final four out of all the other operators who were nominated,” Morris said. “I feel very lucky.”

In addition to their application work, Operator of the Year nominees are judged on their service to their communities. Deese serves as a Sunday school teacher, coaches his sons’ sports teams and built a playground by hand for underprivileged children. Hammond is very involved with 4-H and donates his time helping local clubs maintain the Clinton County Fairgrounds. Klein also has worked with his local 4-H, helping support the Fremont County Fair. Morris is a Knights of Columbus member who volunteers his time serving food to help raise money for various local causes.

The four finalists will be guests of AGCO at the 2014 Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) Conference & Expo Dec. 2-4 in New Orleans, where one of them will be announced as this year’s Operator of the Year winner and receive a new Harley-Davidson® motorcycle.

“These finalists were selected because they all demonstrate an exceptional level of dedication to their profession, their customers and their communities,” said Mark Sharitz, AGCO director of national accounts and government sales, who leads the Operator of the Year program. “Our 2014 finalists consistently go above and beyond expectations, earning the respect and admiration of their agri-retailers, the farmers they serve and their fellow applicators.”

Now in its ninth year, Operator of the Year is designed to pay tribute to the top customer applicators throughout the U.S. and Canada who spend long hours in the field every season, utilizing the latest application equipment and technologies to apply fertilizer and crop protection products on thousands of farm acres each season. All nominees receive a certificate from AGCO to recognize their achievements in one of the most demanding jobs in agriculture.