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Ag Progress Days goes online; virus forces virtual format

Website visitors will find live, interactive webinars, tours, video presentations

Courtesy photo The grounds at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Rock Springs, Centre County, are empty as Ag Progress Days goes online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Walt Frank

wfrank@altoonamirror.com

UNIVERSITY PARK — The show must go on.

The coronavirus pandemic will not stop Penn State’s 2020 Ag Progress Days — dubbed as Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition — from providing educational activities, research tours and commercial interactions, even as the event shifts to a virtual format due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to organizers in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The virtual show will be held Sunday through Wednesday and can be accessed on the Ag Progress Days website — https://agsci.psu.edu/apd.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has presented serious challenges to our agricultural producers, our food supply chains, our businesses, our livelihoods and our health,” said Jesse Darlington, Ag Progress Days manager. “But as Pennsylvania’s land-grant university, it is Penn State’s mission to help our state’s farmers, families and communities to navigate these challenges, whether we all can be together in one place or not.”

“To cancel the (outdoor) show was what we saw we needed to do. We need to protect our agricultural resources … we couldn’t take a chance of bringing them onto the farm,” he said, adding that “it was the right thing to do.”

Darlington said visitors to the website will find live, interactive webinars, virtual tours of the research center and video presentations highlighting some of the latest research, educational programs, and best practices in agriculture, natural resources, health and nutrition, and other topics.

The event typically attracts about 500 exhibitors in-person and while it’s a virtual show, there will still be “quite a few exhibitors, some new ones and some old ones,” Darlington said.

“The exhibitors are excited and supportive of what we are doing,” Darlingdon said. “They see the value and are helping us to promote the virtual show. We are learning as we go, a new way of what we do. It is one way of connecting to our agricultural community.”

Website visitors also can connect with hundreds of commercial exhibitors to learn about the goods and services they offer and, in some cases, view product demonstration videos and arrange virtual meetings with company representatives.

The “Marketplace” section of the website features registered Ag Progress Days vendors, offering enhanced exhibitor profiles and the opportunity for attendees to connect with participating vendors virtually. From a map of exhibitor booth space or from the exhibitor list, visitors can find contact information, product images, show specials, product videos and other information.

Elizabethtown-based Messick’s Farm Equipment has been attending Ag Progress Days for more than 25 years.

“The best parts of trade shows like Ag Progress are the socialization and the time we spend visiting with customers, farmers and the public,” co-owner Neil Messick said. “COVID-19 has given us all fewer chances to see others, and we will miss this time.”

Messick said the lack of in-person visiting is not likely to have a significant economic impact on the business as few equipment sales are made the day of these events. Still, “we’re happy to participate in the Ag Progress online platform.”

Over the four-day period, at least 46 live webinars will provide virtual attendees with valuable and engaging content addressing a wide range of topics. Viewers watching the live webinars will be able to ask questions of the presenters, and the sessions will be recorded for future viewing. The webinars are free, but registration is required.

The interactive sessions will cover issues related to dairy, livestock and poultry production and animal health; business management; field and forage crop production; nutrient management; food demonstrations with healthy recipes; food safety and home food preservation; forestry and wildlife; household and landscape pest management; recommendations for beginning farmers; drinking water quality and pond management; and other topics.

Another live, online session — hosted by Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, and Russell Redding, Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture — will take the form of a town hall meeting. The topic of the hourlong forum, to be held at 2 p.m. Monday, will be the impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania agriculture, lessons learned and next steps in recovering from the pandemic. A link to register to view the town hall can be found on the Ag Progress Days website.

Among the on-demand attractions of the online expo are virtual tours of the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center — curated by Penn State’s Pasto Agricultural Museum, which is located at the center — giving viewers a glimpse of some of the field studies conducted at the 2,000-acre facility.

Many on-demand videos and recorded webinars also will be available from the website, featuring topics typically covered at Ag Progress Days, including home gardening, invasive species such as spotted lanternfly, youth activities and more.

“We hope Ag Progress Days attendees enjoy this online content, which will be available long after the ‘show dates’ and that they find it interesting and valuable enough that they return often to explore the website to the fullest,” Darlington said.

“We want to thank our front-line folks that kept us going and our agriculture community,” he said. “This is our way to give back by doing the show virtually this year. We want to stay connected with the agricultural community. I am definitely looking forward to shaking many hands in 2021. What I enjoy more than anything is seeing our 500 exhibitors in person doing business and having a relationship with them.”

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau will have information available about the value of Farm Bureau membership and recent advocacy achievements for Pennsylvania agriculture. There will also be information about the Farm Bureau’s new podcast, Farm Focus, said spokesman Liam Migdail.

The PFB information can be found on the main Ag Progress Days website.

The 2021 Ag Progress Days is scheduled for Aug. 10-12 at Rock Springs.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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