Confessions of a Farm Show EnthusiastIt’s hot and it’s humid, but it’s fun! The Farm Progress Show is the largest annual agricultural gathering in the United States and was held earlier this week just outside the small town of Boone, set in a 300-acre field in the Iowa countryside. You know it’s a big deal when the first three stories you hear on the local morning news are all about the show!
It’s always a pleasure to escape the confines of my office to experience what agriculture is all about. Driving to the show each day from Des Moines, we pass field after field, a seemingly endless sea of corn and soybeans. And if you look a little closer, you can see some of the issues that farmers must face, such as weed escapes in corn or evidence of sudden death syndrome in soybeans. I think it’s hard for many people to appreciate that each year these farmers literally put their livelihood on the line.
At the Farm Progress Show, crowds of growers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, media, vendors and farm families bustle about in what can only be described as an atmosphere of pure agricultural celebration. For many families this show is like a county fair, with shiny ag equipment and innovative technologies replacing the carnival rides and sideshows. And I’d be less than honest if I didn’t mention the joy of collecting as much free “ag swag” as possible!
It seems nearly every agricultural manufacturer is here in attendance, big or small! Some of the seed companies set up plots so that customers can get a first-hand look at the latest varieties and hybrids. But I must confess, the array of new farm equipment is definitely my favorite attraction. The sheer size of these tractors, harvesters and seeders looks like something that would be more at home on the surface of the moon than in a corn field. I was particularly struck by the unveiling of a driverless tractor from Case IH, which provides a fully interactive interface for remote monitoring and pre-programmed operation and can account for the most efficient pathway over a wide range of terrain. For those that hold onto the image of agriculture as a hoe and pitchfork business, they should attend this show to see first-hand one of the most innovative and technologically advanced industries!
is the Global Head of Research and Development for Crop Science, a Division of Bayer.
At Bayer’s tent there was a hive of activity with about 80 employees managing various information stations. It was great seeing these diverse teams work together, as well as how they engaged in conversations with the many folks who took the time to visit us. Overhearing discussions on products such as Poncho®/VOTiVO® 2.0 and ILeVO® seed treatments, learning how to “AgVocate” on behalf of agriculture, or what people can do to support pollinator health tells me that there is no shortage of enthusiasm in this industry. Of course, I’m sure the smell of fresh popcorn didn’t hurt to stimulate these conversations, but I have to give kudos to DuPont/Pioneer who countered us with the smell of fried bacon coming from their tent. Clearly, all’s fair in love and farming!
The importance of agriculture cannot be understated at this show, which provides an important platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing modern agriculture. On the first day of the show, a number of dignitaries visited the Bayer tent, including U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, and five Lieutenant Governors. Naturally, we had visits also from curious ag science companies, just as our own employees took the time to see what our competitors were highlighting in their tents. On the media day at the Bayer tent we conducted about 130 interviews - mostly with the U.S. media – but I was delighted to see that even a German TV station dropped by to cover our event. Talking to the press is something that we need to do more often, because they are our industry’s window to the world and can help amplify the great things that are happening in today’s agriculture.
Despite the typical friendly Midwestern smiles and pleasant conversations, the mood of the growers is mixed. While they are excited about another good corn and soybean harvest, they are worried about the low commodity prices that drive our farm economy. With such depressed prices, a new $500,000 harvester is a stretch for most farmers, who will have to make do with what they have until things take a turn for the better. And it’s not just farmers that are impacted – a pause on future farm investment creates an economic ripple effect across hundreds of local communities.