The landscape of agricultural trade shows is rapidly changingBy John Rozum, AEM Director, Ag Events & Show Manager  

Growing up on a farm, ag trade shows were always a big deal. We never missed the farm equipment show held by the local farm radio station, WCUB, because it was only 20 miles away.

Most years we also made the day trip to Madison to attend the World Dairy Expo, too, even though we didn’t milk cows. Dad always said he went because “manure spreaders for dairy cows are the same as manure spreaders for beef cows.” Except he never said “manure.” Not even once. We’d go together and kick the tires – he’d talk with the equipment dealers and I’d get an ice cream cone for just a dime from the Purina ice cream stand.  

The proliferation of new local farm shows that began in the 1950s and 60s was driven by the declining farmer numbers. Fewer farmers meant that farms needed to grow and become more efficient to feed a growing population.

Manufacturers were eager to show off the technological advances in ag equipment and farmers were ready to buy. The mostly-rural attendees were attracted to the events for the entertainment and socializing, even if they were no longer on the farm. It was a familiar concept for rural America since they’ve been gathering at county fairs for decades.   

Profitable local or regional shows are few and far between today. Most have faded away entirely. Successful ag events have gotten larger, more focused, and many have changed hands along the way.

One such notable recent change is Farm Progress Show, which began in 1953 as an event co-hosted by Prairie Farmer magazine and Chicago’s WLS-Radio. Through the years, the show has been owned by ABC, Disney, Rural Press, Penton Agriculture, and recently purchased by Informa, a global giant in the trade show, media, and business intelligence industry.

Other shows run by non-profit groups or associations have managed to expand and thrive through careful inclusion of additional like-minded partners, like Commodity Classic has done by inviting additional commodity groups and AEM.   

As agriculture continues to evolve, so will the events and trade shows that serve the ag industry. They don’t have a choice. The old model of filling booth space with everything from tractors to ShamWows while hosting a barn dance to draw a crowd is broken.

Professional farmers today demand a higher level of service at shows to help them become more efficient and grow their business. Manufacturers and suppliers that exhibit are looking for much greater detail about the people in the aisles to justify their investment at the show. Full booths and crowded aisles are no longer enough to justify participation in any show.

So what does the future of ag shows look like? Is there still room for ShamWows and barn dances? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I think we can all agree on ten-cent ice cream cones.