How fast was this past 20 years? How many things can you remember from 1997? What’s different about this year’s Keystone Farm Show? What did they do in 2017 that hasn’t been done before? What sets it apart from previous years?
“It’s bigger,” says Bruce Button, Lee Newspapers Vice President and General Manager. “We have about 40 new exhibitors, several of whom are brand new exhibitors to us. Also many companies have new products here that haven’t been here in the past. The biggest thing people might have noticed if they came is that we have another new building that we put up.” Actually, he clarified; it was a heated tent, “about 150 feet long and 66 feet wide with new exhibitors.” Other than that, Button stressed that Keystone has found success with their format and the slogan “The Farm Show for Farmers.” Tuesday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., is another combination that works well. “We have a lot of happy exhibitors because of it.”
Button explained that new exhibitors climb aboard in various ways. Some have been to other farm shows that exist in early January around the state. If they have a product that is purchased mostly by farmers, they often quickly find out that the other events might not be good for them or in their best interest. “After a couple of years, they might hear about us and consequently wind up here,” Button says, smiling. “A lot of first-timers have already come to us because we have great reviews. Other exhibitors are our best advertising. They’ll tell anybody that they should be here at Keystone. There is a very high exhibitor loyalty rate.” Some of those exhibitors have been on board for all 20 years, and they come from far and wide — Wisconsin, Virginia, New York. Most of them are represented by dealerships in Pennsylvania that will bring the products in. And there are manufacturer reps from around the country.
Walking around the York Fairgrounds complex that houses the Keystone Farm Show, it was easy to notice a heavy Amish and Mennonite presence. “This is a business show, I guess,” Button says, mulling this fact. “They’re coming here to see the latest and greatest things that can make life easier and more productive. They know what animals look like, and what the food looks like. They’re coming to see the technology — see what’s new. A lot of the companies offer show specials, so if you come and order anything from seed corn to equipment here, quite often they’ll offer special incentives to get those orders in during this show.”
In square footage, farm equipment is the commodity that is most exhibited, some of it mammoth machinery used in fields or near silos. There are massive combines, huge state-of-the-art tractors, and extensive tillage equipment. Farm equipment may contain GPS systems, computer renderings of acreage and what is grown in those acres coded by color, hyper accurate maps of soil depths, not to mention the presence of hydraulic systems. Greater equipment for what sometimes seems like smaller parcels of land yet mechanisms that hold the promise of making American farms great again.
“In terms of numbers,” says Button, “it’s probably a 50-50 split with seed companies, insurance companies, builders, and the service companies.” Newbies to Keystone often try out their exhibition with a 10×10 booth, then bring equipment next year and kind of gauge the crowd to see what might sell.
This year, Lee Newspapers had seven ambassadors from the State University of New York at Cobleskill where there is an agri-business/Ag and marketing student chapter. “They are all four year agri-business students whom we were instrumental in getting them going. We sponsor their chapter, their charter — they have to have a sponsor. This year we wanted to have more of a customer service presence, so we had them come down. They are all very serious students. They are learning too, talking to exhibitors. Naturally, they are looking for future jobs. They recognize that getting to mix and mingle with the professionals is a huge plus in their education. Two of the ambassadors are seniors and the rest are all freshmen.”
Two of the ambassadors are Colleen Dempsey and Kelley Doolin. What does an ambassador do? “We hang out in all the buildings,” said Dempsey, “and we look for people who are dazed or confused, or anybody who has any trouble. We show them where buildings are, where the restrooms are, and we talk to the exhibitors, making sure they’re having a good time.” As to what they are looking for in agriculture, Doolin said, “I want to own my own farm — not a huge farm, just a small one — that will allow me to hold another job.” She isn’t quite sure what she wants to farm and is keeping her options open. Dempsey, who admits to being a horse person, notes that she has worked on a horse-boarding farm. “We don’t have goods — we have a service. Therefore, we have to be more people friendly and be available to talk to our clients.”
With assaults on farming (i.e. undercover media trying to expose animal cruelty, townships hemming in farms to keep them from expanding), why does a prospective farmer want to buck the odds and get into farming anyway? “It’s a sense of pride,” Dempsey told me, “knowing that I did something with the day after getting all the horses and doing all the work. I can look over and see that everyone is happy. I actually provided something for people so they can have joy.”
Doolin says she isn’t afraid of farming. “I like animals, I like constantly learning new things with different situations that arise and figuring out how to overcome them, and develop better management practices due to that.”