GARRISON, N.D. -- Paul Folden personally sprayed about 106,000 acres as a commercial applicator for Garrison (N.D.) Farmers Elevator in 2012. It was the third year he surpassed 100,000 acres, and he expects to do more in the future.

Paul Folden
Paul Folden uses electronic maps in his TerraGator to record and service customers for Garrison (N.D.) Farmers Elevator. Photo taken May 31, 2013, at Garrison, N.D. (Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

GARRISON, N.D. -- Paul Folden personally sprayed about 106,000 acres as a commercial applicator for Garrison (N.D.) Farmers Elevator in 2012. It was the third year he surpassed 100,000 acres, and he expects to do more in the future.

Folden, 44, was nominated for the Agco Application Equipment Operator of the Year award by Garrison Farmers Elevator, and became one of four national finalists. He already has nearly 30,000 acres sprayed this year -- a lot for a wet year.

But don't make the mistake of hinting to Folden that he might not have a fourth 100,000-acre year in a row.

"In a way, it's kind of a big game for me," Folden says, with a smile. "You tell me I can't do 100,000 acres this year? Watch me."

A history on the farm


Folden grew up in Ryder, N.D., about 30 miles northwest of Garrison. He worked for farmers through high school and after. This is Folden's sixth season with Garrison co-op, which is an affiliate of CHS Inc.

When he started at the co-op, the applicators were happy to get 55,000 acres applied in a year.

"The first year I was here, I ran 58,000 acres with a little RoGator 854 with a 90-foot boom -- a little 'Tinkertoy' compared to what I've got now," he says. "And I 'roaded' it everywhere. Now I have a semi-trailer" to haul the larger sprayers from job to job."

He applied 120,000 acres in 2011, which was an unusually late season, and 108,000 in 2012. Asked how many thousands of acres he thinks are possible to handle in one year, Folden pauses to think, before answering. "150?" he says. "That's given the right year -- an early spring and a late fall, the best-case scenario."

In 2011, he was putting pre-emergence herbicides down at the end of March and he sprayed until the third week in November. "That's a big year," he says.

In 2013, he started putting dry fertilizer down around April 1, but didn't' start spraying until the second week in May. Actual spraying is where he gets the bulk of his acres, because that goes throughout the summer. He can do more acres in a day with a sprayer than applying dry fertilizer. "The machines are bigger and you're not stopping to fill all the time," he says.

Laid-back, competitive

Despite an aggressive work schedule, Folden describes himself as "somewhat laid-back." He says when a schedule is on the line, however, he has high expectations for equipment and systems.


"When things are on the line, stuff better work," he says.

Folden says he pushes himself hard and wants to get everything done. "It's gotten to the point where we're growing so fast here, the acres are there. If I could spray 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there's work there for somebody to do that."

"He goes above and beyond to make sure customers get the value they pay for," says Chris Gratton, the Garrison co-op's manager, who submitted Folden's nomination.

Bad weather can increase custom application demand because farmers don't have time to do their own spraying. "There's still guys out here who are trying to seed," Folden said May 31, but on June 5, he said some may decide to abandon some acres.

"You may have a three- or four-day window when things have to be sprayed, or you might want to put a pre-emergence application before it comes up, and [farmers] just don't have the time to get all of it covered. They hire us to do a part of it, or sometimes all of it," he says. "Year to year, it's always different."

It's always different

Typically, Folden's routine in a year is to start with dry fertilizer, either on winter wheat or corn ground before the crop is planted. Eventually, he starts spraying. He might go out in the morning when it's cold, apply fertilizer until noon and when it warms up, he'll jump into a sprayer and spray until 7 or 8 p.m.

"Right now, I'm pretty much in the sprayer full-time," Folden says. The spraying job is trickier, requiring more concentration to ensure coverage and prevent drift. Sprayers are bigger machines with 120-foot booms, 30 inches off the ground, compared with floaters,which are 70 feet wide and 5 feet off the ground.


"There's a lot more going on that you have to think about with a sprayer," he says. "But when you spend so much time with it, it becomes second-nature."

Half and half

Farmers with winter wheat might apply half their fertilizer in the fall and the other half in the spring. "Where we ran into problems last year, it was so dry that nobody sprayed," Folden says. "Nothing was growing. But now this spring, with the moisture, everything just took off. All the weeds just laid there, laid there. Now, they're coming big-time and everybody's having us spray big-time."

The commercial applicator finalists were honored guests of Agco at the annual 2012 Agricultural Retailers Association Conference and Expo in San Diego in late November. Carl Peterson of Crop Production Services in Pipestone, Minn., was another finalist from the region. Still another finalist -- Glen Slabaugh of Leesburg, Ind., got the top award and won a Harley Davidson.

The Agco award is based on spraying prowess, but also on community involvement. Until the early 1990s, Folden was a McLean County, N.D., deputy sheriff and also served on a local fire department in Garrison. A former professional fishing guiding on Lake Sakakawea, he also helped start the North Dakota Junior Governor's Cup, a kids' fishing derby for a community fundraiser.

He says it's different from law enforcement, which he says is less predictable. "Here, I know what I'm getting into," Folden says. It takes long hours to get everything done. The only secret to it is, "Go, go, go, go. Go."

Ag retailers will be able to nominate their custom applicators starting late this summer, according to Agco. Folden would be eligible to be nominated again in 2013.

"It's nice to know that people are paying attention," Folden says. "I can drive myself, can motivate myself, but something like that helps. I know this year the event is in Miami. I want to go to Miami."

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