At 30, local farm show going strong
By Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette
When Fred Cline thinks about the Fort Wayne Farm Show, he's amazed at how much it has changed – and how much it's stayed the same.
The annual agricultural trade show swings into gear for the 30th time Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum. If historical patterns hold, about 30,000 people, not all of whom are farmers or in the agricultural industry, will attend, Cline said.
This edition has many of the usual attractions – vendor displays and informational sessions on issues facing farmers and growers, including outlooks on upcoming weather and market conditions for wheat, corn, soybeans and livestock.
“The show is in its 30th year, and we have exhibitors who have been with us for most of those years. Fifty exhibitors out of more than 400 have been there every year for 30 years,” Cline said, noting farmers and others come to the show to make growing and buying decisions.
But compared with 30 years ago, what's being bought and talked about are vastly different.
“In the old days, we were talking about people dying in manure pits and how to fix that. And this year, we're talking about drones and how farmers are getting more and more information from them,” Cline said.
Compared with 30 years ago, farm equipment is bigger than ever and so-called smart options are proliferating – self-driving tractors anyone?
Farmers also are increasingly concerned about how government regulations on such things as pesticide use, transport and foreign policy might affect decisions about their livelihood.
Just how might tariffs or a trade war with China affect when to sell locally produced soybeans?
“That's the kind of question they (farmers) are asking,” Cline said.
James Wolff, educator for the Purdue Extension in Allen County, said farmers also want to learn more about a new pre-market quality assurance certification for beef. Extension expert Ron Lemenager will speak at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the certification.
“A lot of them (meat processors) are requiring beef quality assurance certificates that the beef has been raised properly and that farmers are following proper directions for vaccines, medications and withdrawal dates, things like that,” Wolff explained.
“Tyson is requiring it. It won't buy beef without the certification. I don't know if having it will command a higher price, but ... if you don't have it, you may not have a way to sell your beef or you may get docked (in price).”
Drones also are a hot topic, he said. Purdue staffers will share their expertise at the show.
“We have about a dozen educators with drones and pilot licenses to help farmers with their production,” Wolff said.
Drones can help farmers analyze moisture and nutrient needs in their fields, patterns of weed growth and weather-related and man-made crop damage, he said.
“We have one educator just scouting ponds” with drones, Wolff said. “We're finding really interesting ways to use drones, and we'll have them at our booth all three days.”
Another seminar, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, will examine the impact of zoning laws on farming. The presenter will be Greg Slipher, public policy specialist with the Indiana Farm Bureau.
Cline said he was on pins and needles last week because the federal government partial shutdown might mean some federal officials won't be able to speak at the Fort Wayne show.
A show in Topeka, Kansas, produced by his company, Tradexpos Inc. of Austin, Minnesota, faced cancellations last week, he said. One seminar at the Fort Wayne show is sponsored by federal employees who work for the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The session, on using new online USDA tools, is at 1 p.m. Thursday and likely won't take place unless the shutdown ends in time, organizers said.
“When they're shut down, they can't be there, and that's just not right,” Cline said, adding farmers need the information.
“It's their livelihood,” he said.
While it might seem farming is a dwindling occupation locally, this year's Fort Wayne show has a waiting list of more than 100 vendors, Cline said.
Even with expansion of the Coliseum, which now includes a conference center, the show could use the equivalent of 200 or more 100-square-foot exhibit booths, he said.
“The one good thing about the Fort Wayne show in my opinion is ... it's almost like a continuing education program for farmers,” he said. “It's an opportunity for people ... to come together.”
What: 30th annual Fort Wayne Farm Show
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday
Where: Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave.
Admission: Free; daily parking fees apply