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Commentary: Time to Do Things Differently


In 2020 and the first half of 2021, almost every farm show went dark. A few tried to go virtual but met with limited success. Industry figures show that only about 20% of farmers visit these on-line shows. This prompted many to ask are farm shows dead?  My answer was no, because I have seen how important these shows are to exhibitors and attendees. Yet, I do think the farm show industry needs to change. Show managers need to take a hard look at what exhibitors and farmers want from a farm show experience.

After being cancelled in 2020, the Indiana Farm Equipment and Technology Expo will return to an in person event December 14 – 16. During the hiatus of 2020, the show’s owners, Farm World and Hoosier Ag Today, decided to push the reset button, clear the board, and start from scratch to develop a totally new show. After 42 years in Indianapolis, most of that time at the State  Fairgrounds, we moved the show to a new location, Westfield, Indiana.  The Grand Park complex was built as a sports complex with indoor and outdoor facilities.  Youth and professional sports teams use this facility all year long.  The managers of the complex were a bit skeptical when we approached them about bringing a farm equipment show to their facility.  They eventually warmed to the concept and even made a major investment so we could bring the show to them.  You see, there was not a door big enough in the building to get today’s big machines inside.  They put in a big door and soon the big iron will be rolling inside.

It takes a lot of time, money, and manpower for exhibitors to bring big equipment to a show which is something I am not sure those who attend the show really appreciate. This year there are some new obstacles that exhibitors are facing.  The shortage of parts and computer chips has limited the inventory for many dealers and manufacturers. In addition, a shortage of manpower has forced some long time exhibitors to not be able to attend because they literally do not have people to man their booths.

Yet, despite these challenges, the Expo is almost sold out.  At this writing, there are only a few small spaces left.  This shows that agribusinesses are eager to get out there to show off their products and to connect face to face with customers. The expectations of those customers, however, have changed.

Customers today want more than just a walk by and a full color brochure. They want time to interact with the exhibitors to dig into the increasingly complex nature of today’s ag technology.  In redesigning the show, we took this into account and set up our show floor to promote conversation and a slower pace. Unlike some big shows where you get pushed along by the crowd in narrow aisles, we have set aside seating areas with free coffee to foster interaction.  Our seminar area is right on the show floor — not off in a separate room  or building.

Seminars have always been a big part of this show. These deal with timely topics and are not just sales pitches. Issues and outlooks are the focus, with practical application being stressed by all presenters. New this year are smaller, specialized meetings that feature free food. A complete list of exhibitors and seminars can be found at indianafarmexpo.com.

If farm shows are going to survive, they need to evolve into more than just window shopping events.   Exhibits need to be more interactive and engaging. Farmers must make the effort to attend these shows and to interact with exhibitors and other farmers at the show.  These shows and field days need to become more like ag community events. I personally invite you to attend our show at Grand Park in Westfield, IN. See and experience what we have put together and then give us feedback on how we can make this event more useful and meaningful for you.