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Pemberton wins national ag applicator award

By Anna Jauhola
For the last 25 years, Lee Pemberton has spent countless hours applying agricultural fertilizer on local and area fields. His dependability and expertise has not gone unnoticed.
At the end of November, Pemberton was named the 2023 AgCo Operator of the year, a national award sponsored by the AgCo Corporation recognizing custom applicators for their hard work.
Pemberton works for Jason Volk who owns Makin’ Trax, a custom application company in Pembina. Volk contracts with Nurtien Ag in Hallock. He nominated Pemberton for the award.
“He is very efficient. He keeps things rolling, trucks going, knowing where to go and helps other people who might have questions on the machines,” Volk said. “He helps out new guys and takes care of things.”
Pemberton and his co-workers run Terragators, the huge three-wheeled fertilizer applicators with booms. Prior to joining the commercial applicator world, Pemberton farmed and applied anhydrous ammonia to his own crops. A year after he quit farming in the late 1990s, Volk’s predecessor hired Pemberton to run a Terragator. Volk bought him out not long after Pemberton started spraying.
“Sure I was surprised I was nominated,” Pemberton said of the award. “He didn’t tell me he’d nominated me. He didn’t want me to be nervous for too long.”
On Nov. 28, Pemberton took his former plant manager, Derry Jones, and they flew with Volk to Orlando, Fla., where the banquet for the finalists was held. That evening, the candidates were interviewed around a dinner table, along with their plus-ones and anyone else attending, Pemberton said. The evening of Nov. 29, they attended the main banquet with 400 other people.
“They had the three candidates go up front, went through our bios and we got a nice round of applause,” Pemberton said. “Then they announced the winner and the backs of my knees got rubbery. I’m not denying it. It was a big deal for me. I was on Cloud 9 for a few days.”
Pemberton said winning this award is like a scientist winning the Nobel Prize. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime award, as winners cannot be nominated again.
Pemberton said he didn’t even know the award existed, but wouldn’t think of being nominated had he known. He is used to serving the community and being busy. Pemberton surprised the small gathering during his interview on Nov. 28 when he answered the question of how he serves his community. He revealed he’d been on call for the Kittson County Ambulance Service for 4,990 hours last year. This comes as no surprise back home, considering he returned home Friday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m., signed up for call on the 10 p.m. shift and was called at 3 a.m. for a transfer to Fargo.
As far as his job at Makin’ Trax goes, Pemberton operates no differently.
“A few springs ago, I put 118 hours on my Terragator in one week. There’s a lot of shortness of sleep, and high stress, breakdowns and stuff. And we’ve never sworn at each other,” Pemberton said about his relationship with Volk. “Sometimes, I will get stuck where I shouldn’t, and I’ll bite my tongue.”
In the winter months, Pemberton stays busy helping fix farm machinery, playing basketball with friends every Tuesday and Friday, and attending local sporting events.
Accompanying this award, Pemberton had his choice of $15,000 or a side-by-side ATV. He chose the money, which he plans to share.
“I’m going to divide it between my four kids, my wife and Uncle Sam,” he said, with a smile. “So they were really rooting for me.”

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