I'm headed off to Decatur, Illinois, next week for the 60th anniversary of the Farm Progress Show. I'll be covering media events, taking lots of photos and reminiscing with old friends. Some of them will be folks I met way back in 1974 and 1975 when I managed the Farm Progress Show.
As the saying goes, 'some things stay the same, some things change.'
In those days, the Farm Progress Show rotated between farms in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. The '74 show was near Fort Dodge, Iowa and the '75 show was near DeKalb, Ill. I moved to an apartment near the show site in March and stayed in the area until the show site was cleaned up – usually in October.
One of the first jobs was laying out the exhibit field, parking lots, seed and chemical plots. Believe it or not, this was done with a 100-foot tape and stakes! It required at least three people. This was just to lay out the boundaries. Later in the summer we used the same process to mark off all the lots – several hundred.
Then, since we were usually taking over some cropland for exhibits and parking, we had to seed down these areas.
Besides the various seed and chemical plots, we helped the host farmer plant his crops, including corn and soybeans for field demonstrations. One of our goals was to get as much of the host farmer's crops harvested during the show as possible. That was a huge benefit for hosting the show.
Other projects included numerous meetings throughout the spring and summer with local church volunteers, 4-H and FFA members to plan food and drink sales at the show; local, county and state law enforcement to plan traffic routes; and many other groups.
At the two shows I managed we had to drill wells for water, bury telephone and water lines, and install as many as 50 power poles with transformers to provide electricity.
During the show we provided banks of pay phones for folks to call home or check on the markets.
Once the show was over, all of the power poles/lines had to be removed, saw dust and other ground cover cleaned up – after the tents and temporary buildings were taken down. The Saturday after the show volunteers from the foot and pop tents scoured the grounds to pick up litter left behind.
After all of that, we (including me) ran deep tillage equipment over the parking lots and exhibit field (several directions) to help prevent compaction for the show traffic.
Of course, the Farm Progress Show is still all about bringing the suppliers of ag equipment, seeds, chemicals and technology together on a common ground with farmers and ranchers. That was the original intent in 1953 and still is today. And we still have the exhibit field and field demos. But it is all held on world-class permanent show sites in Decatur, Ill. and Boone, Iowa.
But today Matt Jungmann, Farm Progress national event manager, doesn't have to live at the site all summer. Generally, the planning can be done by email, phone and a few trips to the site. And, of course, each return trip to each site means a lot of people already know what to do.
All of the utilities are in permanently placed, most underground, and instead of portable toilets, visitors can enjoy air conditioned permanent restrooms.
Exhibit field streets are paved, communication is done by smart phones and Internet. You won't find a pay phone anywhere on the grounds.
All of these improvements, and many more, have attracted more and more exhibitors as well as visitors. Exhibit space was increased to accommodate demand this year but still nearly 100 companies were left on the waiting list.
The number of foreign visitors continues to explode exponentially – thousands of people from all over the world. It truly is the 'World's Fair of Agriculture'.
All I can say is, 'we've come a long way baby'!