Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five-Star Seed Attractions

From freedom rides to tractor crankin’, members of the seed industry are showing their passionate sides by weaving hobbies and industry together and coming up with unique, fun, family-oriented events.

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Crankin’ Up Family Fun
In 2007, Lou Buice, president of Golden Acres Genetics, and his sons acquired a Rumely Oil Pull 18-35 Model “F” tractor, which had been shipped to their county new in 1918. After two years of hard graft restoring the tractor to mint condition, the Buice family invited the descendants of the original owners of the tractor, as well as the family of the collector Buice had purchased it from, for an afternoon of mechanical appreciation. “We had a homecoming with this tractor, and that’s what really started things,” says Buice.

Each spring, for the past four years, the Buice Tractor Crankin’ event has attracted an ever-growing crowd of antique tractor enthusiasts, now in the hundreds, who view the machinery as more than gears and wheels in motion, but as mechanical art. Ninety percent of the collection is dated between 1913 and 1919, and the oldest attraction—a 1911 International Harvester Type “D” Titan—just celebrated its 100th birthday last year with special guest driver Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Cole, who flew as Col. James H. Doolittle’s co-pilot in the Doolittle raid over Tokyo in April 1942.

If that isn’t enough to set a historian’s heart aflutter, after a fish fry lunch, home-made ice cream is served from a five-gallon ice cream freezer run by an antique one-lunger engine.

However, it’s not only hard-core enthusiasts who enjoy the day out at the Buice Ranch near Waco, Tex.—as the tractors are cranked one by one down the line, the crowd of children and adults alike are animated with excitement as they hear the first low rumblings of the tractors of yesteryear.

Although he says the crankin’ is a good opportunity to shape the perception of American farmers in the eyes of everyday consumers, Buice isn’t trying to sell seed at this event—that’s not really the purpose, he says. “It’s about fellowship and people coming together,” says Buice. Therefore, in its own unique way it strengthens his relationships within the county.

“It’s a relaxed environment where people have an opportunity to visit and tell their stories. Hopefully we’re making new memories for some people,” he says. “We’re also doing a little bit to preserve the history of agriculture, especially the mechanics and how that has played a part in the evolution of agriculture.”

Gearing Up for Success
Robots may not spring to mind when thinking about agriculture, but they pack the house at the Iowa State Fair—all in the name of seed.

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Every year, youths from grades five through 12 come from all over the state to participate in the Bratney Companies 4-H Robotics Challenge. Last year, almost 100 participants were cheered on by thousands of educators, family members, fairgoers and fellow students, drawing one of the largest crowds at the state fairgrounds in Des Moines.

The Robotics Challenge is a real-time competition to design and build robots that can accomplish a specific set of tasks. Peter Bratney, vice president of Bratney Companies, loves the excitement and game-show atmosphere of the event. “The kids get so excited about the technology and the sense of competition,” he says. “They are jumping up and down and clapping when their designs work—when they don’t work, you can see the agony of defeat, and it’s back to the drawing board.”

He says sponsoring the challenge was a logical move for Bratney Companies. “4-H is heavily vested in bringing the values, principles and exposure of the world of agriculture to kids and young adults, so looking to partner with them in the Robotics Challenge was a very natural fit,” explains Bratney.
In 2010, Bratney Companies made a five-year commitment of $25,000 to establish the program and bring it to the state fair. Bratney expects the third year of the challenge, taking place this year on August 10 and 11, to attract even more participants and larger crowds.

The event directly links careers in engineering with the seed industry. “These youths who are developing the robotic applications today in the competition are the ones who will one day put their skills to work as engineers and problem-solvers for companies like ours, which develop applications for the seed industry and help them feed the world,” Bratney says.

Field Day Goes Hog Wild
On a beautiful day in 2008 while driving to a field day in northwest Iowa, Shannon Latham, vice president of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, came up with a whole new direction for Latham’s field tours in a moment of inspiration.

“I saw a motorcyclist broken down by the side of the road, and he didn’t look really bothered by that fact,” says Latham. “I remember thinking, ‘he knows as soon as he gets that bike back together there is nothing between him and his sense of freedom. He’s going to be flying down the highway and he gets to call his own shots, and go wherever it is he wants to go."

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From that moment, the “Freedom of Independence Ride” came into being. “People who ride motorcycles tend to be independent thinkers and free spirits, and the people who plant our seed are also independent farmers and free thinkers,” says Latham.

It proved to be the perfect fit—125 bikes and around 150 riders have been tearing up the highway each August for the past three years, exploring local attractions as well as talking shop—upcoming traits, technologies and what’s in the pipeline—at field stops, and finishing up with a hog roast (no pun intended).

From the lakes in northwest Iowa to the rolling hills of Wisconsin, the scenery is different every year for the bikers as they tour 100 miles of new Latham territory. “Every ride takes on its own persona,” says Latham.  “Last year we ferried across the Mississippi River. It was so cool to see the whole ferry lined with bikes.”
On August 25, this year’s Freedom of Independence Ride begins and ends at the company’s headquarters in Alexander, Iowa, and marks the 65th anniversary of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. It’s an occasion for people with a passion for riding to come together, and an opportunity for Latham to share her passion for seed, farming and her customers. “I really love the chance to meet people and hear their stories. As a family-owned and independent seed company we like to get close to our customers,” says Latham.

 

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When Bigger is Definitely Better
When Sonny Beck, president of Beck’s Superior Hybrids, launched his first field show in 1964, 50 growers attended. This year, Beck’s Hybrids’ annual Becknology Days and Practical Farm Research Field Shows will attract over 11,000 people.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” says Scott Beck, Beck’s vice president. “We started out small and continued to add things we thought our customers would like and appreciate. It keeps growing.”

It’s no wonder Becknology Days has become one of the biggest field days in the Midwest—it’s a heady mixture of fun, friends, facts and food for the whole family.

From tours covering practical farm research findings, new products and traits, technology previews, and the latest production and management practices to live demonstrations on farm safety, Longaberger basket weaving and cooking on wood pellet grills, Becknology Days has something for everyone—including a kid’s corner dedicated to activities that make the little ones squeal with delight.

The three-day event may have grown over the years, but its original purpose has stayed the same—to ensure farmers have the best tools to help them run their operations, and to provide an opportunity for those growers to meet the Beck’s family of owners and employees.

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“It’s a chance for us to visit with customers and get caught up with them. Whether it’s the employee bringing people in on the golf carts or the person giving the talks, everybody tries to make the people attending feel special that day and to show our appreciation for them coming,” says Beck. 

Kari Belanger

 
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