In from the field

Panhandle Co-op agronomist Will Eitzman retires

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. – Agronomist Will Eitzman was the go-to guy at Panhandle Co-op for producers with questions about their crops for more than three decades.

He closed out that legacy after 33 years on Friday, Aug. 31, retiring as Business Development Manager and head agronomist for the company which serves western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. Friends, co-workers and long-time customers gathered at the Co-op fertilizer office in Scottsbluff to remember his years of service and wish him a fond farewell.

“Will’s always been very loyal, very customer oriented,” said Bob Pyle, retired Panhandle Co-op CEO. “He’s about as dedicated as they come.

He’s a customer-service fellow,” Pyle said. “He enjoys being out with customers, being out in the field.”

Eitzman joined the Panhandle Co-op system as manager of the Crop Production Division in 1985. A 1969 graduate in agronomy from Kansas State, he was drawn to the western states, starting out as a research agronomist with the Western Sugar Company in Colorado.

Eitzman originally hails from south-central Nebraska, growing up on the farm is grandparents homesteaded near Superior, Neb. A mix of dryland and pivot irrigation, half the farm was in Nebraska and half in Kansas, he said.

“I started at K-State in landscape architecture – I was going to be an architect,” Eitzman said. “I got to looking more and more at agriculture.

“I’ve always had a like about farming, raising cattle and irrigating, so I moved into agronomy,” he said. “Having grown up on a farm, doing the things we did, raising crops on the farm with irrigation, I just liked agronomy.”

While living in Colorado and working for Western Sugar, Eitzman met his wife, Chris, in the Longmont area, which became his “second home,” he said. They were later transferred to Billings, Mont., where Eitzman went to work as manager of research for the company for Wyoming, Montana and Canada.

The growing family later moved to Scottsbluff when Eitzman was hired to work in the fertilizer division of Farmland Industries. He was approached by management at Panhandle Co-op to take over the Crop Production Division when the former head retired.

It was the customers and his coworkers that kept him at Panhandle for three decades. But it was his enjoyment of the work he was doing that kept him coming to work every day.

“Putting together ideas and plans for these farmers to be profitable, to raise the best crops they can,” Eitzman said. “Being an agronomist, that’s what I enjoy doing.

“There’s an immense amount of challenges in raising crops, pure and simple. That’s what I like doing,” he said. “Even to this day, I do a lot of crop scouting, looking for lots of different issues in the crops to help these farmers.”

Though he’s leaving the Co-op, Eitzman said he plans to stay busy in retirement. 

“I’m an avid trout fisherman,” he said. “There’s still a lot of trout yet to be caught. And my wife and I are avid mountain hikers. We plan to do some hiking and camping yet this fall.”

Eitzman also plans to work with his daughter and son-in-law on their Sandhills cattle ranch near Atkinson, Neb., along with some occasional private consulting, he said. The challenges of agronomy and working with producers is in his blood.

“It’s the daily contact with our farmers, our growers,” he said. “What you do when you you’re an agronomist is, you solve problems. What I enjoy most is helping guys that way.

“I think developing fertility programs for growers, with the right use of fertilizer, applied at the right time, has really done more than anything to give these guys the yields they’re getting now,” Eitzman said. “That’s been fun to do with these guys.”

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