The National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville in February was among the first—and last—of the 2020 farm show season. As news of a virus, then called “novel,” spread throughout North America, farm shows, along with virtually every other public event, canceled. It was a disheartening domino effect.
As we exit 2020, the National Farm Machinery Show remains on the books for 2021, but it has been delayed by seven weeks. It is now March 31 to April 3.
“We surveyed exhibitors. We talked to our peers. We tried to get a handle on what would be effective, what would be beneficial, and most importantly, what would be safe,” said David S. Beck, president and CEO of Kentucky Venues and NFMS show manager.
This will be more than a date change for the show’s 56th year. Farmers and other visitors will register in advance and provide information that allows for contact tracing. Everyone will be masked. Attendance will be limited to 20,000 people at a time, which allows each person 36 square feet in the 1.2-million-square-foot venue. And, the show will combine virtual content with in-the-flesh opportunities to kick the tires.
Beck said the show meets commonwealth requirements around COVID-19 and upholds standards established through an accreditation process from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, which reflects top-of-the-line practices in infectious disease prevention. If Kentucky eases or tightens restrictions, organizers are prepared to respond.
“We are evolving with safety, with technology,” Beck said. “We want to meet the needs of exhibitors, and exhibitors want to meet the needs of customers.”
Among those exhibitors is member company Kasco Manufacturing, which plans to have a virtual and physical presence at the Louisville show. Paula Kaster, vice president of marketing, said the NFMS was the second-to-last show the company attended this year. The New York Farm Show, Kasco’s final appearance of 2020, has called off its in-person event for February.
Kaster worries that even if the Kentucky Expo Center can successfully host the show, the city may not be able to support the influx of people with limits at restaurants and hotels. She also said she worries about deploying a sales team to Louisville with the possibility of low turnout based not only on health risks but also the new dates. They are bad for farmers.
Still, she intends to return to Louisville—and the farm show strategy—for at least a year.
“We have always used farm shows as part of our marketing,” she said. “When the shows started shutting down, I panicked about where we would find new ways to get the exposure we needed.”
Kaster said the company shifted resources to television, social media, influencer marketing, and print advertising.
“Our sales are good,” she said. “In the midst of the pandemic, during an election year, when we usually take a hit, we are holding our own, even doing a little better than the past few years.”
She considers the return to farm shows a test: “They are going to have to prove their value again.”