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, has been named the manager of the 2018 show. A graduate of the college with a bachelor's degree in agribusiness, he continues to serve the Ag industry in the state and region, and showcasing the College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension. In 2000, exhibitors and vendors were allowed to transact sales during the event for the first time. New features included online registration and interactive mapping system, that quickly converted to the 2020 virtual show for audience and exhibitors. Showcasing Ag Research and best practices for sustainability and successful operations are shared at the live events and well beyond with the College's online educational resources.

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. Over 60 percent of the people visiting the event are directly associated with agriculture. The show continues to attract a strong audience comprised of individuals currently in production agriculture or related agribusinesses, Penn State alumni, and general public.

It's a great venue to showcase the importance of the Agriculture in the state of Pennsylvania and the world. The College of Agricultural Sciences collaborates with local, state and federal agencies, agribusinesses, and many commercial equipment manufacturers to make this annual event a success.

Early APD Photographs
Oral History Project

See and hear the stories of earliest Ag Progress Days.