CHETEK, Wis. – A tomato plant played a huge part in launching the career of Tim Boerner, who will receive Oct. 17 the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Honorary Recognition Award. Boerner was 9 years old when his grandfather gave him a tomato plant. That gift cultivated his lifelong interest in crops and agriculture in general. That interest also has helped innumerable Wisconsin farmers.
He graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from UW-Madison. Today he is a nutrient-management-planning specialist and global-positioning-system technician at AgSource Laboratories. In the decades between he’s helped farmers manage agronomic and environmental challenges.
Boerner wasn’t raised on a farm but he’s been involved in agriculture since his youth. He’s been a gardener since that first gift of a tomato plant. During high school he worked on a Sheboygan-area dairy farm. After graduating from high school he worked at a tannery to earn enough money to attend UW-Madison. When he applied to the university he qualified for work study. He worked in the feed- and fertilizer-licensing area of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He also worked for the agency reviewing pesticide labels for compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
He served a summer internship trapping gypsy moths for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. As he pursued a degree in agronomy he worked at UW-Madison’s Biotron laboratory. There he counted soybean nodules for a research project. He served another summer internship for a farmers cooperative in Wisconsin’s Sauk County. The internship involved sidedressing anhydrous ammonia and bagging fertilizers.
After graduating from UW-Madison Boerner would work as a field agronomist for another cooperative in northeastern Wisconsin. He did crop scouting and would continue to expand his knowledge of integrated-pest-management techniques.
“I always liked working with plants and helping crops to become the best they could be,” he said.
He enjoyed sharing his observations with farmers in newsletters. He’s continued to pursue an early interest in agricultural journalism throughout his career.
“Tim submitted his observations as a reporter for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistic Service’s ‘Weekly Crop Progress’ and the ‘Community Rain, Hail and Snow Network,’ said Chris Clark, who nominated Boerner for the UW-Madison-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences honorary recognition. She is a certified crop adviser and territory sales representative for AgSource Laboratories in Bonduel, Wisconsin. She’s known Boerner for about eight years.
Boerner’s reports for the Community Rain, Hail and Snow Network were broadcast on radio for about 20 years each summer, Clark said.
“His volunteer efforts were commendable because of reaching a larger scope of Wisconsin farms than he ever expected,” she said.
Boerner currently does a different type of writing in his job at AgSource. He writes nutrient-management plans to help farmers better understand the environmental and economic impacts of their crop rotation, tillage and fertility decisions.
“Tim is one of the best liaisons for his farmer-clients because he’s always sharing good ideas,” Clark said.
He helps farmers to comply with county, DNR and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service regulations or programs. Chase Cummings, conservationist for the Pepin County Land and Water, has known Boerner for about 10 years. Nutrient-management plans that Boerner and others write for farmers are required for programs administered by the county agency, Cummings said.
Cummings said he communicates with Boerner about the land and water agency’s goals. Boerner can then relay those goals to clients. Conservation-related messages from an agronomist carry more weight with farmers, Cummings said.
“Tim has a passion for providing information and sharing ideas on how farms can continue to improve on nutrient management and conservation,” Cummings said.
Boerner also provides an agronomist’s point of view in his involvement with the Pepin County Water Advisory Group. And he’s advocated for experimentation with the composting of liquid manure to protect water quality, Cummings said.
Clark said Boerner has helped other county land and water committees as well. Through those groups he provides a proactive voice for water quality and agriculture, she said.
Boerner has served as chairman for five years on Wisconsin’s Certified Crop Adviser board. His involvement with the board as well as attendance at public hearings enables him to advocate for agriculture, he said. He’s worked for years with farmers on land- and water-conservation practices. Are those practices making a significant improvement in soil and water quality?
“Without a doubt,” he said.
He points to the progress of farmer-led watershed protection groups and their implementation of conservation practices to benefit soil health and reduce erosion. He also has seen increased interest in composting manure.
“I think in 10 years we’ll see composting reduce the volume of liquid manure by 50 percent and farmers will significantly reduce manure-handling costs,” he said.
About earning the honorary recognition from UW-Madison Boerner said, “It’s flattering and there are people more deserving than me. But it makes me feel wonderful to have been nominated and have the letters of support.”
As for the future, he said, “I love my job and am going to keep working. Without my start at UW, my life could have been very different. It’s been a wonderful gift.”
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.