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UKAg looks back on 50 years of the National Farm Machinery Show

 

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the early 1960s, Blaine Parker was part of a group of agricultural engineers working on a rural electrification project. Parker was the chair of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Agricultural Engineering Department at the time. He had no idea that those group meetings would lead to a farm machinery demonstration that would still be going 50 years later and attracting visitors from around the world.

Parker, now in his 80s and long since retired, said the group met in Louisville one year and started talking about doing a demonstration of electrical equipment. They worked with electric cooperatives with a goal of educating farmers about electricity on the farm.

“One of the big companies back then was Allis-Chalmers,” Parker said. “They wanted to bring some farm equipment down, some tractors, to show the farmers.”

The first demonstration was in Lexington in 1963 in a small tobacco warehouse. After that initial offering, Parker said a few other companies wanted to participate, and they moved the event to western Kentucky to reach a different audience.

“It was great exposure for the companies and for farm people, too,” he said. “Farm people needed to be aware of what kinds of equipment were available.”

Parker said at some point, someone suggested the show get an official name.

“Someone yelled, ‘Hey, why don’t we just call this the National Farm Machinery Show?’” Parker recalled. “Since nobody else was doing it, we decided right then and there to give it that name. Soon after, I was at a Chicago meeting of the American Association of Agricultural Engineers, and people jumped all over me wanting to know what was going on down here in Kentucky. Once we explained it, it was official, and the show began to grow.”

In 1966, the first official National Farm Machinery Show took place at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. UK and the electric cooperatives formed a committee with the fair board to organize future exhibits. Pretty soon, all the major farm equipment companies brought their newest offerings to the show. UKAg has maintained a strong presence of faculty, staff and students since the beginning.

“It was a classic example of the right idea coming along at just the right time,” said William Tolle, long-time chair of the in-house events committee for the Kentucky State Fair Board. “The enthusiasm of the early show organizers—combined with a great exposition facility in a central location—quickly propelled an exhibition to educate Kentucky farmers about the latest agricultural technologies into the nation’s largest indoor farm machinery show.”

Carl King came to UK as a student in 1966. He remembers going with a group of agricultural engineering students to the show in 1967. King stayed in the department as an engineer after graduation. He recently retired from his full-time position but stayed on in a post-retirement appointment.

“It’s amazing to me how the show has grown,” he said. “It’s so much bigger now and encompasses so much more of agriculture than just machinery. Everything a farmer needs to do the job is right there under roof in one location. There’s nothing like it in the world.”

King has been at the show in some capacity every year since 1967. He said the growth in the scale of the equipment has been the most impressive thing.

“In the 1960s, a 100-horsepower tractor was huge; now we’re talking about 300-plus horsepower tractors,” he said. “You maybe saw a two-row combine back then, at best. Now, you’ve got 12- to 15-row combines and corn planters with many more rows than that. Agriculture has just expanded in every way, and it’s all on display there. If you’ve got four days and a good pair of shoes, you can compare all the brands and make a really informed decision for your farm.”

Parker retired in 1997 and hasn’t been to the show in several years. He said that, while the event has evolved and grown over the years, the original purpose hasn’t changed.

“The sole purpose of the event, for us, was always to educate farmers,” he added.

This year's show is Feb. 11-14 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. For more information, visit http://www.farmmachineryshow.org/.