Crops, innovation, and combines – oh my!

By Brandie Piper

I started my job at Monsanto four months ago. I came here from TV news, with no background in agriculture. I’ve learned a lot over the last few months, but my knowledge bank increased exponentially when I went to the 2015 Farm Progress Show.

Held each year in the Midwest, the Farm Progress Show is where agricultural companies set up booths and showcase the latest and greatest in farm innovations and demonstrate it for more than 100,000 farmers and agriculture students. It’s kind of like the Detroit Auto Show for farming.

So, on Tuesday morning I packed up a bag of snacks, grabbed some coffee, and headed out with my boss, Nick, for a two-hour car ride to Decatur, Illinois.

Arriving at the show

I knew the Farm Progress Show was big, but it hadn’t occurred to me we would hit traffic before we even turned onto the road leading into the parking lot. We sat in traffic for about 20 minutes before we were directed by Illinois State Police to enter the parking field where attendants riding horses directed us where to go.

We hopped out of our rented Dodge Ram truck and hiked to the entrance. When we got inside, a nice group of volunteers gave us a map so we could see which vendors were attending, and where they were located.

Walking through the show is like walking through an amusement park, only instead of rides and cotton candy vendors, people are heading into tents and vendors are showing off the latest and greatest in farm equipment. The area is so large that it’s called “Progress City,” and miniature streets are set up – complete with names – to help attendees find their way around.


Our first stop was to the DEKALB/Asgrow tent, where farmers had the opportunity to meet with agronomists and sales representatives to talk about the 2015 farming season and to plan for next year.

There was also an area set up where workers were personalizing Asgrow and DEKALB hats for farmers—and even made one for Monsanto’s own Robb Fraley.

Monsanto seed and innovation

Next, we headed to the Monsanto tent, which offered sweet corn and watermelon, grown from Seminis seed, to hungry attendees right as they walked in.

There was also a “STEM board” set up to the right, where volunteers asked students to write where they see science, technology, engineering, and math within agriculture.

Heading further into the tent led us to the Integrated Solutions tour, which is essentially a trip through a miniature farm. There, we learned about farm planning, planting, managing weeds and innovations Monsanto is developing to help farmers.

Included in this area was the famous “seed chipper,” which chips off a small sliver of a seed. This allows Monsanto scientists to determine the seed’s DNA, while keeping its nucleus intact, so it will still grow without any problems.

Next was a display featuring vegetables grown from Seminis seeds, including sweet corn, bell peppers, green beans, carrots, and peas.

Agronomists and technology development managers were on hand to speak with famers about weeds, corn rootworm, and integrated pest management. This is where we met Randy McElroy (more on him later).

At the end of the Integrated Solutions tour, attendees were treated to popsicles, featuring interesting combinations of flavors.

Combines – oh my!

After my popsicle, we decided to see the combines at work. We hopped on a wagon that took us to a nearby corn field.

When we arrived, I was amazed at how these large machines quickly plucked the stalks of corn and shelled the corn.

Here’s how they work: as the combines drive, they cut the stalks of corn. The corn cobs are then separated from the husks and stalks, and the kernels are beaten off the cobs in a process called threshing.

Climate Corp.

It was 93 degrees outside, and we were ready for some air conditioning inside, so Nick and I headed over to the Climate Corporation tent.

Inside this area, farmers learned about increasing sustainability and productivity of their farming by using measurement technologies and data science.

Randy McElroy

Earlier I mentioned meeting a man named Randy McElroy during the Integrated Solutions tour. He told us a story about why he continues to love the Farm Progress Show.

Back in 1981, Randy was in graduate school and looking for a job. Thirty-four years ago, job hunting was very different than it is today – there was no Internet and no cell phones.

Randy printed out a handful of resumes and headed out to the show to network. He passed out copies of his resume, and a couple of months later, he had a job offer.

That’s one of the reasons the Farm Progress Show continues to be popular. Not only do farmers get to see the latest and greatest in agriculture, but it’s also an opportunity to network and make friends who have similar interests.

Have a question for me? Follow me on Twitter, @BrandiePiper.

Published Sept. 3, 2015 on

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