Let's get a little mud on the tires!

"There's a place I know where the dirt road runs out ...And we can try out the four-wheel drive, ...Come on, what do you say, I can hardly wait...let's get a little mud on the tires" - Brad Paisley, country western super star and 2003 Farm Progress Show performer

What a week at the Farm Progress Show in Amana, Iowa! The show started off in a steady drizzle on Tuesday, much to the dismay of many show visitors. But I have to say I give those folks lots of credit - they were the serious farmers who were there to see the new products and visit with exhibitors, come Hell or high water (literally).  And hey, what's a farm show without a little mud, anyway?

That day brought back memories of my first show in Iowa 20 years ago, the one and only time we had to cancel FPS. I drove into the show grounds that Monday night in a downpour, not realizing the impact of that rain and the six inches of rain that had fallen the day earlier. My car quickly was swallowed in a mud hole. Helplessly I abandoned ship in the middle of Tent City, as a drenched worker on a 4WD tractor came along and towed the car away. Entering the nearby tents we watched helplessly as the rains came up and bark chips slowly floated away.

Well I'm here to say this year's show was NOTHING like that - thanks in part to the show grounds at the Amana Farms, with their partially-paved streets and subsurface drainage. My hat is off to the Farm Progress Show team and a gritty band of volunteers who pulled all-nighters to get those show grounds into manageable condition for the thousands of visitors who would come over the three days.

Even so, parking the first day was an adventure. "Wait until you have about 100 yards between you and the guy ahead of you, then gun it!" the mud-splattered parking attendant told me as I slowly inched off the road and into the 'parking lot.' I flipped the 4WD button on the Explorer and managed to slide into my spot without too much trouble.

Later that day there were lots of helpful volunteers on Polaris Ranger ATVs with tires strapped to their front bumpers, giving people a friendly push as they exited the field. A colleague from here in our Decatur office said he especially enjoyed pushing out the Mini Cooper BMWs, Infinitis and Jaguars. Who brings those cars to a farm show? On the other hand, playing pinball with a Jaguar sounds like a lot of fun.

"We are going to have to start producing crops more efficiently in the future," says Robb Fraley, Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer.

That afternoon the sun came out and the clouds passed, giving us two glorious, dry days to finish the show. And despite the weather, what a show it was. Monsanto's Disney-esque exhibit included an on-field test plot highlighting the company's genetically-modified future. The company had planted these experimental crops earlier this season and surrounded the exhibit with a 10-foot fence and barbed wire. The crops will be destroyed shortly after the show. Inside, visitors saw dicamba-tolerant soybeans, drought-resistant corn (complete with an awning to 'prevent' rainfall from hitting the crop), soybeans with healthy Omega-3 acid, corn with better nitrogen utilization, and high-lysine corn for better ethanol conversion.

These are the kinds of crops we only dreamed about a few years ago. The company already has a game plan for putting these seeds into farmers' hands in the next three to five years. "As much as we've seen in these first 10 years of biotech, this is really just the beginning," Robb Fraley, Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer and the father of Roundup Ready beans, told a small group of Farm Progress Editors in an exclusive briefing during the show. "There's a massive amount of new products and technology coming."

And while Monsanto's presentation was a real crowd pleaser, the 400 other exhibitors on hand went all out as well. From Chevy Tahoe's elevated four stories, to platforms over combines to show off grain hoppers, visitors got an eye full. Even the field demos got started with corn harvesting on Wednesday. Tillage demonstrations and more corn harvesting happened as scheduled Thursday.

"The time you need to be selling is the time you are most concerned about the crop," says ADM Marketing Analyst Brian Burke.

Besides all the typically great events like the field demonstrations showing off the latest tools and technology, some excellent speakers were on hand to share their expertise. Archer Daniels Midland was there in full force, touting its Ag in America tour that helps educate consumers and students about the importance of agriculture in our economy. WGN broadcasters Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong hosted their live shows from the ADM stage.

ADM, which had hardly any presence at Farm Progress just a few years ago, seems to have come full circle these days, with dozens of blue-shirted ADM folks chatting up visitors in the company's impressive exhibit. This is one of the most encouraging trends I've seen at these shows, and I'm not just saying that because my wife works at the company. Brian Burke, an ADM market analyst, was on hand to give farmers daily market outlook seminars - an area where help is always welcome. "We're finding that there's still a lot of marketing being done on the 'I need cash' basis," he told me. "We want to help farmers avoid having to sell just because they need cash."

ADM folks also got a lot of questions on ethanol - a hot topic on the show grounds this last week. Our own Market analyst, Arlan Suderman, was on hand to give farmers a good overview of how to profit from the coming ethanol -driven market. Much of Arlan's presentation focused on the expected demand for corn based on new ethanol plants coming in the next 24 months. In fact, a new study by FAPRI predicts that 32% of U.S. corn will go eaten up by ethanol production by year 2010. The chart from Arlan's presentation - below - drives home that point.

I want to say thanks to all of you folks who came to the Hospitality Building to say hello. I especially want to say WOW to you folks who came out Tuesday despite the conditions. If you were there, drop me a note to tell me about your adventure.

So you got a little bit of mud on the tires - it was worth it!

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