For the 11th year, AGCO recognizes the top professional ag applicators.

The four 2016 finalists ranged from 19 to 43 years of experience as professional applicators and were selected from more than 40 entries. A panel of judges at AGCO then evaluated submissions based on skills, dedication, customer service and community involvement. And the grand prize is a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The 2016 AGCO Operator of the Year is Tony Kornder of Genesis Grower Solutions in Le Sueur, Minn., and upon receiving his award, he said, “This must be beginners luck. There’s a lot of experience up here on stage.” He thanked his family and joked they were headed to Disney World and his young son would be up on this stage in about 30 years.

Four finalists were:

Ken Funk, CHS Elburn, Newark, Ill. – After 36 years of service, Funk knows his customers’ fields almost as well as they do. He applies on 35,000 acres a year and delivers precise applications including on-time scheduling and detailed paperwork. Even during 15-hour days in the busy season, Funk ensures all of his customers receive top-notch service.

“Ken knows the wash outs and problem areas just as well as the farmer himself,” says Tara Bernard of CHS Elburn. “He is also the operator and salesman that you see driving the country on his Saturdays off, using his backpack sprayer and spraying the fence row or wet holes that he couldn’t get to with his machine.”

Funk is active in his family’s church and helps take care of lawn fertilizing and spraying on the grounds. In addition, he was part of a team that spent a year remodeling a building for church use.

“I do every field like it was my own,” Funk says. “In ag, we trust each other to do the job correctly. It’s the same way I trust anyone else I’d hire. I expect them to pay attention to detail and do it right the first time.”

Tony Kornder, Genesis Growing Solutions, Le Sueur, Minn. – With 19 years of experience as an applicator, Kornder applies on about 35,000 acres each year. His company credits Kornder’s knowledge and work ethic with improving client retention and even gaining new customers.

“Tony is the guy we send to our most challenging fields,” says Marc Chevalier of Genesis Growing Solutions. “He delivers on the promises our salesmen make, and his work in the country is a billboard for Genesis.”

Kornder’s keys to success include keeping equipment ready to go and continuously looking to gain efficiency in road time, routing or loading. He is a member of the company’s safety committee and recently led a training session for all custom applicators. As a fifth-generation family farmer, Kornder personally understands the challenges his customers face. He is president of the Scott County (Minn.) Farm Bureau and has testified at the state capitol on agricultural issues.

“Being a farmer gives me a unique perspective at this job,” Kornder says. “I know the farmer expects a custom hire job to be done quickly, neatly and professionally. I take the time to back into the corners and check the paperwork.”

Ronnie Peterson, Crop Production Services (CPS), Dothan, Ala. – After 43 years at CPS, Peterson is one of the most requested applicators. He applies on about 30,000 acres annually and is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the local farmland and unsurpassed skills as a handyman. Peterson offers creative problem solving on the job and outside of work.

“Not only does he provide our customers with the necessary nutrients to produce a healthy crop, he does so with a smile on his face,” says Jonathan Whitehurst of CPS. “When he retires, it will take five new hires to replace Mr. Ronnie, if we could even come close.”

Outside of work, Peterson maintains a large vegetable and fruit garden, raises hogs and is an avid deer hunter. Coworkers, family and friends can count on gifts of fresh vegetables, pork sausage and venison. His creativity extends to his own home, which he built himself with reclaimed river wood.

“Being creative helps me adapt to different conditions,” Peterson says. “When a problem comes up, you figure it out and sometimes there may not be a conventional way to do it.”

Joel Waterman, Hamel Seed & Farm Supply, Inc., Worden, Ill. – Waterman’s success comes from equal parts of focusing on customer relationships and demonstrating his excellent applicator skills. For the past 25 years, he has applied on 35,000 acres each season. Customers have come to rely on Waterman’s expertise and no-nonsense guidance on product effectiveness and cost.

“Joel is no stranger to late night calls from farmers asking his advice and seeking approval for orders,” says Randy Klenke of Hamel Seed & Farm Supply. “Anyone who has started working for us in the last 20 years has probably been trained under Joel’s patient tutelage.”

Waterman’s expertise and demeanor make even experienced applicators comfortable when asking questions about their rigs or product recommendations. As his children were growing up, he actively supported them and other youth, leading and assisting with extracurricular activities from Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops to soccer and choir. Waterman also helped start a new church locally and is passionate about hunting, fishing and conserving local wildlife.