By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
FORT WAYNE, Ind. — An expansion of the venue that will host the upcoming Fort Wayne Farm Show is proving to be a boon for the event’s organizers.
The 27th annual show is Jan. 12-14 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. “We’ll have a good mix (of exhibitors) in all the spaces,” said Fred Cline, a show director with Tradexpos, which produces the show. “There will be more equipment.
“It’s been true from the first show to the current one. The show is unique because it allows visitors to compare red, green and blue brands (of equipment). It lets them ‘kick the tires’ on the equipment.”
The expansion included the addition of about 29,000 square feet of multipurpose event space and enlarged pre-function and service areas, according to Coliseum officials.
The project created space for 141 new booths – and Cline said show officials are using all of them for exhibitors. The new conference center is carpeted, meaning the Coliseum has restrictions such as no forklifts or larger pieces of equipment, he noted.
“There will be equipment in the conference center,” he said. “But it’s the first year, so I’m anxious for move-in to be done, to see how we pulled it off.”
More than 400 companies will occupy 1,100 booth spaces. That number includes 90 companies new to the farm show this year. The new companies sell such items as sprayer parts, seed, drainage tile and scales, he said.
“When folks come in, they’re looking for something different, something they haven’t seen,” Cline explained. “Years ago, that was computers and technology, then GPS (global positioning system). Now we’re seeing drones. All of that is fascinating and is becoming more a part of production.”
The show sold out by mid-summer 2015, about the time it normally does, he said. “Earlier in 2015, I was thinking we weren’t going to be able to sell out. It didn’t initially seem to fill up as fast as normal. But lo and behold, we sold out; we still have more than 100 companies on the waiting list.”
Last year’s show saw a visitor attendance increase of more than 4,700 over 2014, said Steve Engleking, Purdue University extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in LaGrange County. The 2015 show drew 33,044. In 2014, 28,289 passed through the turnstiles.
The record high was 39,991, in 2008.
“We hope (attendees) will find information useful to their farm operations,” Engleking said. “It’s also a social opportunity, an opportunity for farmers and agriculturalists to get together. They can socialize with each other. It’s like a big county fair.”
Ironically, the bad weather that occasionally occurs during farm show week can be a blessing for show organizers, he noted. “Sometimes the good weather hurts more than bad weather. If schools are closed, farmers will put the kids in the four-wheel-drive and bring them to the show.”
This year’s event will be the first since the death of Tradexpos owner Jack Thill, who started the Fort Wayne show after a visit to the city in the 1980s. He passed away last July at age 90, after a 65-year career in agribusiness.
The original goal of the show was to draw as many people as possible into an agricultural event, Thill said in 2014. “Farmers love to see new things,” he said. “They can learn a lot at the show. It’s a beautiful facility. I knew it would draw people and would be a good show.”
Even though the show is more than a quarter-century old, Cline still worries if it will sell out and have good attendance.
“Personally, I fret every year,” he said. “There has never been any doubt about the quality, consistency or future of the show. The retention rate with our exhibitors is into the 90-some percentage range.”
The show is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Jan. 13 and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 14. The event is free, but there is a fee to park in Coliseum lots.
Tradexpos, based in Austin, Minn., also produces farm shows in Owatonna, Minn., and Wichita and Topeka, Kan. For more information on the Fort Wayne show specifically, visit http://tradexpos. com/fort-wayne-farm-show