Source: AGCO Corporation

Recognition Reaps RewardsRecognizing a job well done can greatly boost employee morale. And a brand new 2010 Harley doesn't hurt either. That's what's in store for the next Operator of Year — an annual program saluting the commitment, achievements and excellence of individuals in the custom application industry.

Scott Hier, vice president of agronomy, South Dakota Wheat Growers in Aberdeen, S.D., a locally owned agronomy and grain cooperative, says the challenges of the job make it difficult to retain good custom applicators. The positive recognition through the Operator of the Year award was one of the reasons behind Hier's nomination of Tod Borge, custom applicator for South Dakota Wheat Growers, and 2009 Operator of the Year winner.

Below, Hier shares how a small-time investment to note contributions from custom applicators can offer long-term gains in team motivation and business growth.

Q: Why are customer applicators important to your business and the agricultural community?
A: South Dakota Wheat Growers has well over 65 custom applicators. The level of professionalism these individuals display in the field can make us look like a good or bad application company.

Q: How do custom applicators make or break your business?
A: Our custom applicators operate more than 100 machines across close to 2 million acres each year. Any mistakes in the field — from errors in fertilizer application to equipment downtime — can be costly to our bottom line. The way they portray themselves and our company when conducting business with producers also can reflect positively or negatively on our business.

Q: What characteristics do you look for in a custom applicator?
A: We look for a good work ethic, professionalism, proper application skills, knowledge of equipment and mechanical abilities. We have a lot of good guys with these attributes — Tod Borge being one of them. He helped write the curriculum for some of our applicator training courses. When any of our guys have a problem in the field, Tod is usually the first person called. He's dependable and well thought of by producers and colleagues, which is a great indicator of having an excellent customer applicator.

Q: Does acknowledging good work empower employees?
A: It can. When Tod got nominated — and won — last year's 2009 Operator of the Year, everyone was so proud. Participating in programs like Operator of the Year, along with pay incentives for exceptional work, keeps our employees motivated.

Q: How do programs like Operator of the Year boost employee morale?
A: When we heard Tod won, it was surprising to see the boost in morale from other applicators. More surprising was the interest it sparked from other employees who were interested in learning about how to become a custom applicator. The award and the good recognition played a factor in that.

Q: How has South Dakota Wheat Growers benefited from having one of its own win Operator of the Year?
A: It might influence a producer's perception of our business. Producers may have a variety of custom applicators to choose from, but the fact that we have an Operator of the Year winner on our side differentiates us from the rest. It gives us a positive identity.

Q: Do you plan to nominate someone again this year?
A: Yes, we plan to.

Q: Do you like Harley motorcycles?
A: Absolutely.

Q: Do you know that the person who nominates the 2010 Operator of the Year will win a Harley Road Trip?
A: (Chuckles) Well that's definitely even more motivation. I wish that prize was around last year!

Operator of the Year was developed by AGCO Application Equipment as an ongoing program to recognize the best operators in the custom application industry. Agri-retailers are encouraged to submit their nominations for Operator of Year online at by Oct. 31, 2010.