The off-year of the Farm Progress Show has for nearly 10 years been a hole in the Progress City USA schedule. The site was built in 2005 to host the largest outdoor agriculture show in the country and it has served that purpose five times. However, because the show rotates with Boone, Iowa, Progress City often has been underutilized, especially in terms of hosting another major agriculture-related event.
After the Precision Aerial Ag Show was held there this week, an event to fill the gap could very well have been found. With the interest in unmanned aerial vehicles is only just blossoming, the show could continue for years to come. Decatur-based AgEngage was the organizer, while Penton Farm Progress Co. helped to market the new show. The set up of Progress City suited the event, with open space to demonstrate the technology and for parking while making use of the permanent buildings on site for educational seminars, exhibit space and eating areas. Excitement could be felt through the duration of the event, and not just because the Central Illinois summer weather was ideal for a change.
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The interest in drones might eventually fade, but at least the groundwork will have been laid for hosting another major agricultural event at the site. The Precision Aerial Ag Show by no means compared in size and scope to the Farm Progress Show. It filled only a fraction of the 80-acre site and measuring up to Farm Progress shouldn't be the goal. Even for those of us who have been part of the Farm Progress Show before, it remains hard to truly appreciate its magnitude and the transformation that happens to Progress City every other year. However, the new event brought a crowd of interested attendees and exhibitors to Decatur, just as what the site should be able to do. Organizers seemed pleased with the turnout. Exhibitors are eager to come back should a similar event be held again. More that weren't there have expressed interest in it.
As was shown throught the two days of the event, the technology on display has the potential to change the agriculture industry. Serious concerns still loom about use of the equipment. As great as the potential is to help farmers, technology can all too easily be misused. Sensitive data can fall into the wrong hands. Neighbors don't want the aircraft used to invade their privacy. Law enforcement can overstep their bounds with the ease of using the machinery. Flying objects can be dangerous, too, so safety is especially important. Some regulations are going to be understandable when the Federal Aviation Administration releases more clear guidelines for the use of drones. Farmers, however, want to be able to use the technology as another tool to improve yields and it seems like they should have the right to do so responsibly.