The Farm Show is back, baby!
Once again, America’s farmers are ready to descend upon Louisville, and the Kentucky Expo Center. As I type, the parking lot is jammed full of all manner of equipment waiting to roll on to the expo floor. They’ve got the weekend to set up, and on Monday & Tuesday, the rest of the exhibitors will load in. Having done this once before, I can attest to the fact that the setup for the National Farm Machinery Show is something else. It’s somewhat chaotic, but by next Wednesday, it will all be as ready as it gets, and the doors will open.
I know lots of you have done the Farm Show thing before, but every year, there are thousands who make their first visit to Louisville. My first trip was in 2017, and I remember how overwhelming it was. I mean, it’s 1.2 million square feet of wall-to-wall exhibits! That’s a lot to take in!
This year will be my sixth year … sort of. More on that at the end.
At any rate, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and there are a few things I always try to do when I’m in Louisville for the Farm Show. I mean, other ag media outlets have done a Farm Show first-timer’s guide – why can’t I?
So without further ado, here’s how to do the Farm Show … Interesting Iron-style!
How to do the Farm Show like Interesting Iron does it
1. Hit the big exhibits in the early/mid-afternoon.
This was one of the most popular tractors at the Farm Show back in 2020. Deere had MASSIVE crowds drooling over this 4430 all week long!
The big booths from the manufacturers are always busiest in the mornings. Everybody wants to see the new stuff; the kids want to make sure they get the swag before it’s gone. (Spoiler alert: It’s never really gone.) And the media types want to get in early to get the story so they can push it out in the afternoon. The result? It’s usually bonkers in any of the major exhibit booths (Deere, CNH, AGCO, etc.) in the morning.
The power move? Go in the afternoon when the crowd goes for lunch. Traffic usually slows down a little mid-afternoon, and that’s often the best time to talk with sales and marketing reps. By then, they’ve had a minute to regroup, shotgun a Red Bull, and they’re good to go again.
2. Don’t sleep on the small companies.
There are close to 750 small companies that exhibit at the farm show most years, and they’re definitely worth a look. They may not be household names, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t turn out killer products. Case in point…my buddies at Stor-Loc. They build the toughest, most ridiculously overbuilt tool cabinets I’ve ever seen. Stop out and see them in the West Wing!
3. Go see what happens when carpet farming goes completely off the rails.
Chase & Colby’s “Farming the American Dream” display has changed quite a bit since I took this photo back in 2019. Check out the video below for a full walk-through. It was originally recorded as a Facebook Live session, and when I mention certain people by name, I’m answering their questions from the chat window.
Ever wonder what would happen if kids never outgrew their carpet farming obsession?
This. This is what happens.
You end up with a highly detailed, custom farm display that takes several days to set up and tear down, and rides in its own 16′ Haulmark trailer! It’s a labor of love for lifelong pals Chase Long and Colby Counce, a couple of lifelong friends from Tennessee. They grew up playing with tractors, and literally never grew out of it! The craziest part? Most of what you see here is hand-built (including a handful of scratch-built tractors and other machinery), and it keeps growing every year! The last time I saw it was 2020, and at that time it was 40×8. However, I talked to Colby a day or two ago and it sounds like this year they’ve added another 2 feet to the length – and changed up the layout quite a bit.
This is one exhibit that NEVER slows down. I’ve seen crowds stacked four people deep before! Chase and Colby are usually there, too, answering questions all day long! Super nice fellas, and they absolutely love this hobby!
They gave me a guided tour back in 2019. Here’s the video.
As you can see, it’s pretty amazing. Definitely worth the time.
4. Learn how to use data to make better equipment-buying decisions … from Tractor Zoom!
At the National Farm Machinery Show 2022, Tractor Zoom CEO and Founder Kyle McMahon presented farm equipment supply and price trends for 2021, as well as insights into 2022. The largest trend across multiple equipment categories at the time was low supply and high prices. Find the recap of his seminar in this blog post.
Kyle’s not presenting this year. However, he did give something of a State Of The Union for the equipment market last week at the Iowa Ag Expo in Des Moines. Here’s a recap of that presentation.
5. Eat some ice cream.
Ehrler’s ice cream: Making farm show attendees and staffers happy since a long time ago!
For those of you from Iowa, you know how you can’t go to the State Fair and not have Barksdale’s chocolate chip cookies, right?
It’s the same way at the Farm Show. You can’t go to the Farm Show without having Ehrler’s ice cream!
Ehrler’s has been a part of the Louisville landscape for 155 years now – first as a dairy, delivering milk to thousands of customers. Over the years, though, they found a calling in the ice cream business. And while they’re the in-house ice cream vendor for most of the major event locations in the city, don’t confuse them with just some random brand of ice cream. This stuff is LEGIT. You’ve gotta try it while you’re there. Ehrler’s sticks to a few mainstay flavors; but they rotate through a daily feature too.
I’m a proud member of the #mintchipmafia, but I know that I’m in the minority on that. I talked with the folks at Ehrler’s this morning, and they told me that Butter Pecan and Cookies ’N Cream were the top sellers at the Farm Show every year. Get this: they go through 3,500 gallons of ice cream over those four days! That’s a lot of ice cream!
Ehrler’s is absolutely a can’t-miss Farm Show tradition. If you don’t believe me, ask this little fella!
6. Support Kentucky corn growers.
Sneak away from the Farm Show for a couple of hours and support Kentucky’s corn growers. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Kentucky and bourbon go together like peas and carrots. You can’t have one without the other. Furthermore, bourbon is big business for the Bluegrass State, accounting for $8.6 billion in revenue and over 17,000 jobs. Furthermore, the mash bill (recipe) for bourbon must have a minimum content of 51% corn. Believe me, bourbon is a big deal for area farmers. I know at least three corn growers who haul their corn to distilleries in the state.
And the best part? Bourbon is awfully tasty, especially when you know what to focus on.
There’s an area of downtown Louisville called Whiskey Row that’s only about 10 minutes from the Kentucky Expo Center, and five distilleries have a presence there. They all do guided tours of their facilities along with tastings. Tours range from $20 to $100, depending on how fancy you want to get, and they all take about an hour. If you’re so inclined, I highly recommend sneaking away from the show for a couple hours to go and take a tour. I can nearly guarantee that your tour guide will be one of the most enthusiastic, passionate people you’ll meet while you’re in Kentucky, and the production facilities that they’ll show you are absolutely beautiful. Furthermore, they’re steeped in deep tradition. In Kentucky, bourbon is a subject to be treated with great reverence. Honestly, it’s a lot like farming.
*If you happen to take the tour at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, ask if Jodie Filiatreau (fill-eee-uh-trow) is around. He’s the artisanal master distiller for the property, and an old friend of mine!
7. Meet people!
Whether it’s waiting in line to see a New Holland that floats, or sharing a table at lunch … you’re gonna be around people. Say hi! Making connections is one of the best parts of the Farm Show.
The Farm Show funnels somewhere north of a quarter million people through the doors every year. That’s a lot of people, and they’re not just from Kentucky! I’ve met people from all over the place. Had lunch with a nice family from Nebraska a few years ago, talked toys with a fella from Indiana in 2020, and went pulling with guys from the Netherlands in 2016! They were all terrific folks, and we all still keep in touch!
My point is that everybody comes to this show with a different background, and that’s something that we can embrace as members of the ag community. Have some ice cream with an apple grower from West Michigan, or a pork loin sandwich with a combine tech from Iowa; they’ve all got stories to share, and almost invariably, they’re all pretty friendly folks!
READ MORE: The Clarence Avenue contender
In the event that it’s my Uncle John (the aforementioned apple grower from West Michigan), you’d probably have as good a chance of meeting him here looking at orchard tractors as you would having an ice cream cone! He likes both!
8. Go tractor pulling.
The Championship Tractor Pull is a must-see, even if you only do it once. This is one of the only pulls on the planet where you’ll see the absolute best of the best from all over the country (and once in a while, from Europe) competing head to head. This year, the Farm Show selection committee had more applicants than ever before, and I know it wasn’t easy to narrow down the class competitors!
The Prostocks are always a fan favorite, as they’re the biggest single-charger diesel class with the biggest motors. With 680 cubic inches, the biggest charger you can spin, 24.5-inch-wide tires, and all the fuel you can push … it makes for a pretty impressive show! Many of these competitors are spinning a 6-inch-plus charger, and making better than 4,000 horsepower!
The Super Stock classes have also been fan favorites, but historically they’ve always been split – alcohol had its own class and so did diesel. Since 2020, though, that’s been a thing of the past. Now the so-called “Battle of the Fuels” pits the traditional diesel-powered setups heads-up against their alky-burning counterparts. In 2020, alky-burners took the top two spots, but they may not have it quite as easy this time around. The diesel guys have continued to step up their game and it should be a terrific show!
Two things to note on the tractor pull:
- Bring earplugs. It gets pretty loud.
- Be on time. The opening ceremonies are really cool.
9. Go to Broadbent Arena during the day.
Broadbent Arena, adjacent to Freedom Hall, is the best place to rub elbows with the drivers and get up close and personal with some of the prettiest tractors you’ve ever seen!
Right across the parking lot from the Farm Show, you’ll find each day’s pulling competitors with their vehicles on display. If you’ve ever wanted to look under the hood of these fire-breathing monsters, here’s your chance to do it. They’re open to the public for most of the day, and the pullers are always happy to answer questions about their machines. This is more than just a weekend warrior thing for them; they’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into making these machines competitive. At the end of the day, it’s a thrill for them to meet their fans and answer questions about their tractors!
If you’ve got kiddos with you, ask to put them in the driver’s seat! There’s almost nothing that pullers love more than to see a kid’s eyes get as big a saucers as it dawns on them what they’re sitting in!
I can speak with some authority on this subject. These people are my pulling family, and my loved ones. I’ve watched kids dream from the driver’s seat at nearly every tractor pull I attend, and I’m tellin’ you … seeing those smiles and the look of amazement NEVER. GETS. OLD.
10. Look for the big guy in the Tractor Zoom hat.
That’s me, and that’s basically what I look like…except for I’ve got a lot bigger beard now. At 6’6″, I’m a hard guy to miss! (Photo: Caitlin Zimmerman)
I’ll be at the Farm Show all week, and I want to hear YOUR tractor stories. I’ve told lots of stories about tractors from all over the place. But for this week, I want to hear yours! Let’s talk! Auction stories? Yep, I want to hear ’em. The one that got away? I want to hear that one too. Collector stuff and rare ones? Definitely. Tractor pulling? Absolutely.
At 6-foot, 6-inches tall, I’m tough to miss. If you’re at one of the pulling sessions, you’ll most likely find me down in the media pit with a great big camera. Stop and say hi in between classes or if they take a break!
Lastly, two quick bits of advice. Wear comfortable shoes/boots – the Farm Show is definitely NOT the time to break in a new pair of Ariats. Also, if you’re planning on hitting the South or West wings to buy tools or toys or whatnot, do that LAST. You’ll like that cordless Milwaukee torque wrench kit a lot more if you don’t have to lug it all over creation all day.
Other than that, enjoy the Farm Show! See ya there!
Oh yeah, one more thing. Y’know how I said that this was my fifth Farm Show … sorta? Keep reading – 2020 was a doozy.
My sixth farm show … sorta.
I’ve been coming to the farm show since 2017 when John Mears (the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League director) asked me to come down to shoot the Championship Tractor Pull as part of his media team. John’s phone call literally changed my life, and I appreciate the opportunity he’s given me. It’s been a lot of fun, and the farm show is something I look forward to every year.
In 2020, though, things really didn’t go the way I’d planned. The plan was that I’d do social media stuff for Tractor Zoom at the show during the day, and then put on my photographer’s hat at night and shoot the tractor pull. It was going to be great! I had interviews lined up with some up-and-coming ag influencers and all sorts of neat stuff that was going to end up on our social channels.
The trip down to Louisville was fine. I got there on Monday evening and met Sherry Schaefer (Heritage Iron) and a buddy who’s a Kubota dealer for dinner at The Cardinal Cafe (which has since closed, I’m sorry to say). Went to the hotel and checked in, and no sooner had I fired up the laptop to answer some emails … I got a tickle in my throat and a cough. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the next day the cough got worse and I really wasn’t feeling great. By Tuesday evening, I was in rough shape. Hacking cough, chills, no voice, and it felt like I was swallowing razor blades. I grabbed some Gatorade and cold/cough medicine from a Walgreens, and went to bed around 9 p.m. that night.
(Figure out where this is going yet?)
I’m not even kidding when I say that I didn’t get out of bed until 9:30 a.m. on Thursday morning.
I did get over to the Farm Show for a couple of hours on Thursday, and even brought my camera gear with me, figuring maybe I could stick it out and shoot the Thursday night session of the pull. By 4 p.m., though, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Dejected, I went back to the hotel and crashed. Friday morning, I texted my boss and told him what was going on, and that I was throwing in the towel. And by noon, I was on the road headed back to Des Moines.
I never got tested, but I’m just about certain that I had COVID, because when I got home, I went to bed and basically didn’t move for the next few days.
So yeah, this will be my sixth Farm Show … sorta. Maybe more like my five-and-a-quarter-th. I’ll never live it down with the pullers who were there that year, either. Some of my buddies from Missouri STILL put their hand over their face like a mask when they see me, and I’m pretty sure that Misty Lustik is going to call me “Patient Zero” for the rest of my life…
(With friends like mine … who really needs enemies?)
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life … if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom, I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on it. I think it’s cool, and I hope you will too! This is Interesting Iron!