An Agricultural Show for Everyone

Being able to see farm machinery operate in field conditions is a big draw for farmers from all over the Northeast.

Nearly 70,000 people are expected to attend the 79th annual Empire Farm Days, which kicks off its three-day show on Tuesday, August 7. An amazing 600 exhibits will be set up on the Rodman Lott and Son Farm on Route 414, south of Seneca Falls.

The Empire Farm Days is the largest agriculture show in the Northeast. Farmers from all over come with their best and newest equipment, and to educate and be educated. There is something for everyone, farmers and non-farmers alike.

The Empire State Potato Growers have hosted the show since 1933, and it was held at whomever’s farm was deemed the most outstanding. It was never at the same place for more than two to three years in a row. Then in 1988, Ralph Lott and his family volunteered their farm as the show’s permanent home. Melanie Wickham, who worked for an agriculture publication at the time, became show manager. Since then, she and her husband, along with assistant manager Drew Wickham, have worked closely with the Lott family to present the true nature of New York’s agriculture each year. “We are like family,” Melanie said. “We work together year-round to prepare, and have an extraordinary relationship.”

While Empire Farm Days gives visitors the opportunity to experience everything agriculture all in one place, they may need three days to see it all. Of the 300 acres of land designated for the show, 75 acres will be exhibits. The rest will be used for parking and field demonstrations including cattle handling, mowing, viticulture and more.

Cornell is an especially active participant. Last year, the university presented daily demonstrations on the latest and best management practices for recycling plastics. Farms use a lot of plastic like bale wrap, silo and bunk covers, and various sizes and shapes of bags. To date, more than 40,000 pounds of discarded white bale wrap from northern New York farms has been made into TERREWALK non-concrete sidewalks that are environmentally beneficial, cost effective, and comfortable to walk on.

In addition to daily wine and cheese tastings, visitors can buy ice cream, sausage sandwiches, and other favorite barbecue foods at the many food and beverage booths run by various community groups. New this year is “Outdoor Flavor,” which highlights hunting and fishing.

Commercial farming is the main attraction at Empire Farm Days, but there is an enormous emphasis on rural landowners. Questions and concerns about how to maintain the land, or how to sustain small crops and livestock, can be answered there for free.

For the vendors, it’s all about networking. “You can see a lot of existing customers in the three days of the show,” said Brad Hathorn, regional manager of Cazenovia Equipment, which specializes in John Deere equipment. “It would take than three days to drive around to see each of them. It’s a great time to catch up with friends and develop stronger relationships with existing customers.”

Brad has been attending the show for as long as he can remember. He grew up on a farm in Stanley, not far from Seneca Falls. He’s been involved in farming for his entire life and has been working with large machinery for the past 25 years. John Deere is one of the many sponsors of the show.

“Even your typical ‘tech-head’ would be astonished by the equipment available out there,” he told us. “This equipment is capable of using GPS tracking and on-board sensors for a laser-guided measuring and control system. It’s mind boggling.”

It’s one of the many reasons why folks without first-hand farming experience take pleasure in attending the show.

It is important for everyone to see where their food comes from, to see the lifestyle Farm Days reflects and to see all of it in action. “The show brings buyers and sellers together,” Melanie said. “It educates them and brings new ideas into the community, not to mention its vast economic impact.”

The show is family-oriented and includes hands-on activities for kids. It’s entirely outdoors where you can see the equipment operating in the fields. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to get up into a huge combine and drive it yourself? You can do it at Farm Days!

Melanie involves the local community as much as she can. When the tent service comes in, she hires local kids to set them up. The community groups that run the food concessions use the proceeds as a fundraising opportunity. Melanie also works closely with the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce to help give other businesses the opportunity to grow. Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters from 10 local high schools help with parking, demonstration booths, and safety.

Agriculture is the largest industry in New York State. Approximately 25 percent of the state’s land is used to raise livestock and produce a wide array of food products. Many New York farms have come from generations of farmers who have worked to contribute to their local communities for years and are working today to continue this tradition.

This year’s show runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on August 7 and 8, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on August 9. Have difficulty getting around but still want to come check it out? There are five trams that operate continuously from north to south and east to west throughout the exhibits to make the show easily accessible to all. Admission is free; parking is $10.

by Hannah Kallet

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