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Visitors to the 2003 Farm Progress Show will take a trip back to where it all began in 1953. Photo courtesy of Farm Progress Companies
It all began in 1953 as a replacement for the popular, yet waning, hand corn-husking contests and has evolved into a national focus on the latest in machinery, equipment and technology for the complex and fast-changing world of American agriculture. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Farm Progress Show, which is returning to its roots in east central Illinois on Sept. 23-25, 2003.

The Penfield-Gernand farms near Henning, Ill., will host the 2003 show, which is located only about five miles from the Earl Bass farm - the site of the first show.

Organizers of the "Super Bowl of Agriculture" are planning a world-class event that takes more than 100,000 visitors back in time, while delving into the high-tech future of agriculture in one convenient location. "This year's Farm Progress Show puts a great emphasis on looking back through the years but also looking ahead into the future of agriculture," says Don Tourte, Midwest region sales manager for Farm Progress Companies, Carol Stream, Ill.


Visitors to the 2003 Farm Progress Show will get a look at just how far the industry has come in the past 50 years with the Half Century of Progress Show. On Sept. 20, the I & I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club will kick off the show with an antique tractorcade, spanning from the original farm show site on the Earl Bass farm near Armstrong, Ill., to the present site at the Penfield-Gernand farms. The tractorcade will showcase at least one tractor from each of the past 50 years, demonstrating the advancing technology of agriculture equipment. After the weekend tractorcade, a static demonstration of vintage '50s equipment will be on display at the Farm Progress Show grounds.

The staff of Farm Progress also took a trip back in time when preparing a special commemorative 1953 hybrid demonstration plot for this year's show. The staff lined up vintage equipment to accurately relive the experience of planting a half-century ago. Thanks to Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the plot is actually filled with corn preserved from 1953.

"The demonstration plot will give young farmers a chance to see just how it was done back in the old days," says Tourte, "while veteran farmers can recall those warm spring trips across the field working to get the crop in on time."


Generations of farmers have gained firsthand knowledge of new products and practices at the Farm Progress Show over the years. New crop protection systems, conservation tillage practices, four-wheel-drive tractors, rotary combines and satellite remote sensing are a few examples of the thousands of innovations that have been introduced at the Farm Progress Show.

Keeping the tradition, new to this year's show will be global positioning system displays and demonstrations, both on and off the show grounds. The show will feature the latest in computer-controlled guidance systems, satellite imagery, GPS-based management systems and other information and technology available to today's farmer.

The Farm Progress Show will also be host to a new soil judging contest, involving 50 FFA chapters in the surrounding Illinois and Indiana area. "This new feature has been added to bolster the educational nature of The Farm Progress Show," Tourte says. "It is also an excellent way to introduce the tradition of the Farm Progress Show to a younger audience."

The Young Pro Ropers will be joining the show list as well. Accompanying the roping class is Craig Cameron, the famed "Horse Whisperer."

Along with new attractions are the familiar events, such as "Ride 'n' Drive" demonstration areas, 800 acres of field demonstrations, seed and crop protection plots featuring the latest in crop genetics and technology, and cattle handling and breed displays.


To celebrate 100 years, Morton Buildings will construct a stage where Brad Paisley and Montgomery Gentry will perform at this year's Farm Progress Show. (Rendering provided by Morton Buildings.)
The Farm Progress Show isn't the only ag entity celebrating an anniversary this summer. Morton Buildings, Morton, Ill., is celebrating its 100th anniversary and is playing a special part in this year's show. The Morton Stage, built and co-sponsored by Morton Buildings, will be the venue for several big-ticket entertainment events. This is the first year concerts are being staged in conjunction with the show, and all performances follow the close of the day's show on the Morton Stage.

First on the roster is country music star Brad Paisley, who will perform on Tuesday, Sept. 23. Following up on Wednesday, Sept. 24, will be the 2000 CMA Duo of the Year, Montgomery Gentry. For ticket information, visit

"These concerts will be another magical moment in Farm Progress Show history...not only building a small city out of a cornfield, but now building a stage and presenting top talent entertainment," Tourte says.

The stage itself will be a site to behold, measuring 60 feet wide and 45 feet deep with a 20-foot tall pavilion covering the stage. Attached to the back of the pavilion is a 900-square-foot backstage area, which includes two dressing rooms and a pre-staging area. According to Jess Houghton, national advertising manager for Morton Buildings, the idea for the concert and Morton Stage was nearly two years in the making. "A couple of years ago, we began thinking of ways to celebrate our 100th anniversary," he says. "The idea to bring in country acts to the farm show turned out to be a great idea for both Morton Buildings and the Farm Progress Show."

Morton is eager to show a varied audience its capabilities. "Farm structures are our core business, but we do so much more than that now," Houghton says. "We are still the biggest and best in the farm building business, but we also build many types of commercial structures, suburban buildings and even homes, for example. In fact, a lot of people don't realize that we are also the number one church builder in the United States."

Those involved in the coordination of the concerts hope the entertainers will draw people that would not normally attend an agriculture show. To companies like Morton Buildings that have both agricultural and suburban customers, the Farm Progress Show will be an ideal place to visit with both audiences.


The Morton Stage won't be the only location where ag companies will be showing off their expertise. The Farm Progress Show is famous for its "tent city" promoting every agriculture product imaginable.

In 2003, show coordinators are expecting more than 400 exhibitors at the show, including major equipment manufacturers, short-liners, technical service and equipment, and seed and chemical companies.

Case IH, Racine, Wis., has been exhibiting every year since the Farm Progress Show opened its gates in 1953. Ray Bowerman, manager of shows and exhibits for Case IH, says the show is where the company rolls out its new products each year and gives its competitors a run for their money in the demonstration plots. "The Farm Progress Show is where farmers go to see the newest products and talk to knowledgeable company people," Bowerman says.

It is also where farmers go to compare products and equipment side-by-side. Manufacturers must make sure their products are top notch, says Bowerman. "People want to go out and compare products to see what they are doing in the field," he says. "That is a big advantage of the Farm Progress Show."

The show is also known for drawing the right type of crowd. "We see upbeat farmers who are willing to accept changes and adopt technology," says Bowerman.

These are important factors, but what really brings people back every year?

Bowerman says it's the notoriety of the show, the quality crowds and the great show staff that has brought his company back each time over the past 50 years. "The Farm Progress Show is on the top of the list of all the major manufacturers," he says.

But the show is not only about making sales and winning new customers. It takes more than that to last 50 years. Chuck Roth, president of Farm Progress Cos., has his theory: "The Farm Progress Show is not just a business trade show, although that is its main focus. It is also a family event for rural America." AM

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