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Our History

The significance of Ag Progress Days in Penn State history goes deeper than a taproot. In the 1800s, faculty would periodically travel across the state to hold Farmers’ Institutes.

These on-farm workshops continued well into the 1900s and played a crucial role in educating farmers on the latest agricultural breakthroughs. The college first invited farmers to campus in 1907 during Farmer’s Week, held every December or January.

These winter field days were eventually discontinued in favor of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which debuted in 1917, but Penn State did not abandon its responsibility to reach out to new audiences. Faculty and extension agents participated in yearly field days at college facilities or area farms, sponsored by the University, local farm organizations, or the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

“The real precursor to Ag Progress Days was Grassland Field Days, which started in 1951, and then became Forage Progress Field Days,” says Jim Starling, senior associate dean emeritus. “These events were held around the state, bouncing from site to site.”

These two-day events focused on equipment, plowing contests, pasture renovation, and forage production. In 1969, the event had its name changed to Agricultural Progress Days and was held on Fox Chase Farm in Bradford County. The first Ag Progress Days to be held at Rock Springs was in 1971, also the first time the event was held over a three-day period.

The event continued to be held at various sites until 1976, when Dean James Beattie proposed that Rock Springs become the event’s permanent home. “It was much less expensive to build a quality site at Rock Springs than to start from scratch every year at a different location,” Starling recalls.

Today, Ag Progress Days remains one of the top agricultural events in the state. It also is one of only three agricultural exhibitions in the country sponsored by a major university. The show uses about 55 acres for events, 35 acres for parking, and more than 80 acres for crops.

The site was first developed for the event by Joseph Harrington, professor emeritus of agronomy, who served as APD manager from 1976 to 1991. As the horticulture farm manager, Bob Oberheim, succeeded Harrington in 1992 as Ag Progress Days manager. The 2016 show marks Bob's retirement from Penn State, after 25 years managing and growing the show. The show grew from 285 exhibitors to over 500 exhibitors, while progressing from tents to seven new building structures on the grounds.

Jesse Darlington, facility coordinator for the College of Ag Sciences and site manager for the Ag Progress Days facility for the past 16 years, has been named the interim manager of the 2017 show. A graduate of the college with a bachelor's degree in agribusiness, he looks forward to continuing to serve the Ag industry in the state and region, and showcasing the College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension. Jesse works closely with Agronomy farm manager, Scott Harkcom, to plan crops for machinery and crop demonstrations at the site. Along with support from Debra Ellis, program and business manager, they try to generate several new features to the APD show. Such features include a new online registration and interactive mapping system for audience and exhibitors. Sustainability of farming and best practices are displayed by Extension educators. Visit the College Exhibit Building to learn about managing land and water resources, at the newly created river walk.

In 2000, exhibitors and vendors were allowed to transact sales during the event for the first time. “At APD, farmers can see, test, and sometimes operate different brands of equipment in a single visit,” says management. “Now, if they like a piece of equipment, they can buy it here, too. A farmer’s time is valuable, and this service can only make the show more popular.”

Ag Progress Days remains one of the college’s most effective outreach tools. Nearly all of the college’s academic departments and various extension offices participate every year, contributing exhibits and educational materials, including a large multimedia display on current research programs in the College Exhibits Building. State and federal agricultural agencies also prepare extensive educational displays for the event.

Management surveys APD audiences every few years, using questionnaires, interviews, and parking counts to help determine the makeup of the event’s audience. About 60 percent of the people visiting the event are directly associated with agriculture. The 2017 show, Aug. 15-17, marks the 42nd year the event will be hosted at this site.

Management believes the show will continue to grow in exhibitor numbers, due to the fact the show maintains a true agricultural and educational focus. The show continues to attract a strong audience comprised of individuals currently in production ag or related agribusinesses, along with an interested general public. It's a great venue to showcase research and extension resources in The College of Agricultural Sciences, collaborative activities of local, state and federal governmental agencies, along with the newest technology and equipment from the commercial sectors.