Ag in Motion

Western Canada’s Outdoor Farm Expo

Under bright, clear summer skies in the central part of Saskatchewan, farmers and agribusinesses from Western Canada recently gathered together from as far away as Edmonton to the northwest and Steinbach, Manitoba to the southeast for the inaugural Ag in Motion, Western Canada’s Outdoor Farm Expo. It was a prime opportunity to witness, first-hand, some of the many latest and most innovative technologies within the agriculture industry.

The three-day Ag in Motion trade show event began on July 21 and was spread out over a 320-acre parcel of land about 35km northwest of Saskatoon on Highway 16, and 5-km west of the town of Langham. Led by Show Director Rob O’Connor, the occasion brought forth the expertise of seasoned farm show organizers and operated by Glacier FarmMedia, the country’s largest farm publisher and owner of Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, held annually near Woodstock, Ontario.

The Canadian Business Journal spoke with O’Connor at the conclusion of the extremely successful event, which drew 200 exhibitors and 11,468 people in attendance. The expansive new farm show adds an extended dimension of interactivity for producers looking to assemble ideas about future investments and technology for enhancing efficiencies within their business operations. Producers are able to examine crop-plot research equipment in action with numerous field demonstrations. It also provides an ideal background for farmers to see the equipment working in its natural environment, namely prairie soil.

“We didn’t want that exceptional land where you are going to see crop plots that most farmers can’t relate to in their own experience. We looked for land that was pretty much average for the area,” O’Connor tells us.

“I think it went off very, very well,” O’Connor says when asked about the overall event. “We had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the exhibitors and the farmers who attended the show.”

The indoor portion of Ag in Motion was held under a massive 200×90-foot tent where more than 80 companies manned displays that were either 10×10 or 10×20-foot booths set up to display their products and services. Many of the businesses were either parts’ suppliers or service providers that don’t often sell large pieces of equipment, but they certainly service it. There was also a chance to listen in on specific seminars, hosted by some of the country’s preeminent agricultural experts in the Agri-Trend Knowledge tent.

“Those seminars are always well attended and they are specific, discussing certain areas that may be of interest,” O’Connor says.

There are two main attractions that make the show so valuable to farmers. Firstly, there are the crop-plot demonstrations. Different companies, such as Dow, DuPont, Monsanto or local companies, planted their crops in different-sized plots over 20 acres in order to demonstrate to the farmers how the various different plants grew in such an environment. In some instances it would be other crop inputs that they used to enhance that crop, resulting in a better yield.

Secondly there is the trade show of agriculture equipment, including large pieces of equipment such as air seeders, tillage equipment and augers. With those enormous pieces of equipment the companies demonstrated them out in the field, allowing farmers to see it in the trade show and also in the field. There were even opportunities for the farmers to jump into the cab of a tractor and operate the particular piece of equipment they were interested in.

“That’s just something that isn’t offered anywhere else in Western Canada,” O’Connor reveals.

Among the dignitaries in attendance showing their support were: Federal Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz; Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture Lyle Stewart; the Reeve of RM Corman Park Judy Harwood; the President of Agricultural Manufacturers Canada Leah Olson; and from the University of Saskatchewan, the Dean of College of Agriculture and Bio-resources, Mary Buhr. John Kennedy, CEO of Glacier Ventures, was also on hand.

Given the rural locale, a number of infrastructure improvements were implemented, including new gravel roads, making for easier access to the event. Everything was completed several weeks before the show started.

“It was a great benefit because the equipment here is so large that it would really compact and maybe move the soil, so having a good gravel road was very important,” O’Connor mentions.

The process of getting ready for the big event was a long time in the making, behind the scenes.  The premise for the show had been floated around for quite some time, but the official announcement came back in January. Ginty Jocius, the man who created Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ontario, always had a vision of holding a show in the west. Unfortunately Jocius passed away in 2008 before his western dream could come to fruition. The show was then was bought by current owner Glacier Ventures and they decided to forge ahead with Jocius’s inspirational idea.

“We are following the model from the east but quickly out of the gate this show has noticeable differences. The show here in the west has a lot more crop-plot demonstrations and of course the equipment out here is much larger,” O’Connor says. “We purchased the land after the deal went through in the middle of December. We launched the new show in the middle of January and then we worked for six months and a few days right up until the three-day event, which ran from July 21 through July 23.”

As the global population continues to expand, there is a necessity to grow even more food on the same amount of available land. Not only is the population growing, it’s getting wealthier and the demands for higher-end products is increasing. The best way to deal with it is through technology.

“We have to find new ways to make better use of the land we have and that’s what is really shown off at these agriculture shows now is what types of practices can we research and find out is beneficial and the best equipment for those scenarios that adds the most value to the farming practice,” O’Connor remarks.

The University of Saskatchewan is a major stakeholder with Ag in Motion and had a significant presence through its Crop Development Centre and College of Agriculture and Bio-resources along with other experts on hand to talk to producers about a variety of agronomy topics.

“We want to work with them to showcase what the effects of good research can do. Obviously a trade show is a place where people come to see what’s new and exciting or maybe what’s coming down the pike,” adds O’Connor.

The next generation looks bright in Saskatchewan and also Alberta and Manitoba according to O’Connor, who says the Canadian agricultural industry as a whole is in a very good spot right now. Although figures from Statistics Canada indicate the average age of farmers is increasing, he reveals there is a notable flaw in those reporting numbers.

“As farms get larger there are more family members who take part and that may still be the owner of the property but it’s the sons and daughters who are now really managing that farm,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot more younger people come to these shows than probably we ever have in the past. Agriculture in Canada has been quite good the past five or six years so I think there is actually some good profits being made, and that attracts people to a profession too. It bodes well for attracting people to the industry and that’s what is happening right now.”

O’Connor and his team have already had meetings with companies and received emails, Facebook messages and phone calls from interested parties who have already made it known that they want to either be part of the show in year two or expand the amount of space they had reserved for this year’s event.

“We have had a number of conversations with the exhibitors during the show and even as it was wrapping up we continued to get immense positive support for what we had done. I think we will expand the show so what we’ll need to decide is what areas to expand in and focus on first. I do believe that we’ll probably see a bit more of a dairy segment and beef cattle segment to the show in 2016,” he states.

Based on initial reaction, there is no doubt that many of the companies that were there this year on the grain, crop and equipment sides will be looking at increasing their booth space areas in addition to more companies coming onboard next year as well. New programs coming onboard will likely need to be set by the first part of October. Depending on what those programs entail, it could mean a different setup for the land.

“Our demonstration program this year was based on how the property has been used in previous years. If we want to have different types of demonstrations then we would obviously have to farm the property a bit differently so that the equipment we want to demonstrate is actually working the crop that it’s intended for. Some crops may have to be planted this fall so they can sprout in the spring and grow to be big and healthy by this time next year,” O’Connor says.

As the event matures, O’Connor would like to see Ag in Motion make more effective use of the 320 acres at their disposal. In addition to the trade show, he would nothing better than to see the property used on a consistent basis to allow the industry showcase itself on a more individual basis throughout the year.

“We’re inviting companies, even now, to come back to the property and use it as a demonstration place for whatever piece of equipment they want to demonstrate and whatever crop they want to demonstrate,” he says. “We’ve asked companies to consider coming back and showing farmers how those crop-plots have continued to grow after the show and how they can be harvested.”

The hope is that the companies bring in their dealers, distributors or farmers and can implement training sessions with staff.

“We really do hope that companies will take us up on that offer and then we can become more of an Agriculture Centre of Excellence forWestern Canada throughout the entire year and not just for three days.”

Ag in Motion has staff members who are part of the Glacier Farm Media Program, so there are people who came from Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta and they all unified wonderfully as one team, which really helped to make the show a huge success. Pulling off a trade show of this magnitude required excellent execution by staff, but also the town’s many volunteers, who graciously offered their time and services for the event. The response O’Connor and his team received left them in amazement thanks to the outpouring of local support.

“Between the volunteers and the staff it’s a really unique, special thing that happened here and to do it in rural Saskatchewan makes it that much more impressive,” O’Connor says. “These volunteers were people we didn’t even know a few weeks ago. They reached out and asked what they could do to help and they were from 14 years old all the way to retirement age. They were always smiling and happy.  You could tell they were proud that we had chosen their location to host the show.”

After a hugely successful inaugural event, O’Connor and his team have already begun preparations for Ag in Motion’s second trade show in 2016, which will no doubt get bigger and better each year.