With drones, GPS-controlled tractors, and mammoth combines, the equipment on display at last month's 60th annual Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., looked more like they came out of a science fiction novel than a Tractor Supply catalog.
Billed as the nation’s largest outdoor farm show, the event featured more than 600 agriculture-related vendors and attracted about 100,000 people from across the nation and several foreign countries. Farmers could see the newest products first-hand, and climb aboard tractors and combines.
Keeping up with changes in technology is important as farmers try to squeeze more production out of every acre they farm. When the show launched in 1953, corn yields averaged 54 bushels per acre, about a third of the 160 bushels per acre Illinois farmers harvest today. Similarly, the average soybean yields have more than doubled in that time—from 21 to 46 bushels per acre.
The show usually includes a popular field demonstration of the latest harvesting and tillage equipment, but this year the 300 acres of corn surrounding the show venue weren’t ready for harvesting. Persistent spring rains delayed planting in Central Illinois, and an unusually cool summer slowed the maturing of the region’s crops. Instead of dried corn stalks and golden ears ready for harvest, this year’s show attendees saw nothing but a sea of green corn.
Instead, company representatives paraded agricultural equivalents of super models in a “runway show” for farmers. In normal years, hundreds of farmers line the fields a dozen deep to watch the new combines in action.
“It’s a big deal not to have the demonstrations,” said Matt Jungmann, national events manager for Farm Progress Companies, the sponsor of the annual event, which alternates between Decatur and Boone, Iowa. “It’s one of the things that people come for—but not the only thing.”
Still, farmers could compare varieties of corn plants in side-by-side demonstration plots. Nearby, biomass plots showed several varieties of grasses that can be used, in addition to corn, to produce ethanol.
Among the innovative products on display was a crop-scouting drone that allows farmers to monitor the condition of their fields via a camera mounted on a helicopter-like craft. Manufacturers are also using GPS in equipment to direct farmers within inches of their destination to ensure accurate planting and fertilizer application. Several companies have introduced tractors and combines outfitted with tank-like rubber tracks rather than wheels to improve traction and minimize soil compaction. And, of course, equipment continues to get bigger to help farmers accomplish their work more efficiently. This year, one company introduced a mammoth 30-row corn harvesting head that harvests a swath of grain as wide as a two-lane street.
Even Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was impressed with the sophisticated equipment. After touring a combine, he declared that the machine features “more technology than the last space shuttle.”