For 51 years, the agricultural industry has continued to evolve. Rural family farms marked the landscape before big business boomed. Americans, who once relied on subsistence farming, shifted to large-scale, industrialized, vertically integrated “agribusiness.” Yet through the boom and bust, the traditions and the new conventions, the National Farm Machinery Show has found a niche that satisfies the changing needs of developing farmers.
Two shows shaped the beginnings of the National Farm Machinery Show. In 1963, the University of Kentucky sponsored an electricity demonstration and exhibit for farmers in Lexington. That initial show opened the door, eventually expanding to include more types of power including agricultural power.
In addition, the most prominent and popular commercial exhibitors during the first forty years of the Kentucky State Fair were related to the farming industry. Power equipment valued at half a million dollars at the Farm Implement Show took up more than thirty acres of the fairgrounds. Due to its popularity and the growing agricultural interests in the region, many knew the time was ripe to expand.
Ultimately in February 1965, a few hundred farmers, salesmen and crop experts gathered in the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center to start a farm show. That year, commodity prices were high and farmers were experiencing record-high profits. The farm show then added an entertainment element four years after its inception with the Championship Tractor Pull. In 1969, the first Championship Tractor Pull was the first major indoor event in Freedom Hall and attracted 66 tractors in three classes. Now the nation’s oldest tractor pull continues to enjoy popularity with people whose heroes are farmers and whose obsessions revolve around machinery and horsepower.
Louisville’s location in the agriculturally-rich Midwest and Southern corridor was accessible and attractive to farm equipment manufacturers and dealers from around the nation. The exhibitors found an organized show in a central location where they could display their agriculture products, services, and equipment to an interested audience of professional and recreational farmers. The once-tiny farm show is now the nation’s largest indoor ag trade show and plays host to nearly 300,000 attendees and exhibitors.
Salesmen and industry experts spread over 27 acres of interconnected indoor exhibit space educating farmers and looking for potential buyers. The show, now in its fifth decade, showcases innovative technology, new product launches, and alternative energy, among others. In addition to gaining hands-on access to the newest and most innovative products on the market, attendees will also benefit from the selection of free seminars led by some of the industry’s top experts.
Industry officials and manufacturers seem to universally agree that, while large equipment sales remain strong, significant opportunities exist with the smaller-acreage farming machines. And that bodes well for the staying power of the National Farm Machinery Show. With more than 800 exhibitors, the show floor provides farming equipment, technology and gear for every attendee.
Because the show is early in the farming season, it tends to help forecast the season to come. A feat foreshadowed by then-Kentucky Governor Edward Breathitt, who remarked at the opening address of the second annual National Farm Machinery Show that the future of the show has "untold educational benefits" and "a myriad of other possibilities [for the] agricultural industry."