Farmfest sprouted from 1972 ploughing contest
The community of Vernon Center gained national and even international attention during the week of Sept. 11-17, 1972.
Shady Brook Farms just north of the town, owned by Bert Hansen, became the site of the 19th World Ploughing Contest. The yearly gathering blossomed into a 1,400-acre agricultural extravaganza with more than a 1,000 acres of demonstration plots, 65 acres of exhibits, political speakers, entertainment, and the state and national as well as the world ploughing contest. It was called Farmfest USA and it offered all of this for only $2 admission.
Falling on an election year, the event featured local candidates Gov. Wendell Anderson and Congressman Anchor Nelson on opening day, accompanying Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern who delivered his major farm message at the event. The current Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz spoke for the Republican position a few days later.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans put on shows Monday and Tuesday. Charlie Pride was the featured entertainment for Wednesday. Frankie Fontaine, the Bugs Bunny Show and the U.S. Air Force Band and the Thunderbirds entertained the remainder of the week. All led up to the appearance of Bob Hope on Saturday, drawing 80,000-90,000 people to the grounds.
Field demonstrations were held daily on numerous farms in the area, displaying corn, soybeans grain, forage and sorghum trial plots. Both domestic and foreign farm equipment was on display, many demonstrated in the field. Some of the newer items shown were a new building system from Lester’s, Steiger’s new four-wheel drive tractors, a 10-ton self-propelled silage buggy from HCI Industries, and a universal header attachment for combines that fit all row crops from Melroe.
Programs advertised for women were presented daily including a class on terrariums, lamb cookery, today’s fabrics or a fashion show from Madison East. The grounds even had a post office with its own zip code.
Plowing was the focus of competition. However, there was also a kite-flying contest and the state goose-calling contest. Tractor and horse pull attracted large crowds. The state and national plowing contest occurred early in the week. A horse-plowing contest closed the week.
All surrounded the World Ploughing Contest. Twenty nations were represented with 38 contestants. Those men farmed anywhere from 10,000 acres in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) to 12 acres in Belgium. Teams arrived early to practice plowing in soil that is heavier than most experienced in their own countries. Teams brought coaches and mechanics, some provided by the companies who supplied the tractors. Ford was the most visible tractor.
All plowing was done with two-bottom plows. The contest lasted three hours. The first 20 minutes the plowers opened a furrow the length of their plot. Thirty minutes were then allowed to made adjustments, and the last 1½ hours were used to complete the plot. Contestants were judged on such things as the straightness and uniformity of the opening furrow, the dept and slice of the furrows, and smoothness of running without jerking of the plow. Austrian Willi Flatnitzen won the contest with 273 points out of 400. The second and third place winners were both from Norway.
Preceding the event there were concerns about traffic, housing and weather. The week began with fog and rain. After 1½ inches of rain fell, sawdust and crushed limestone were used to cover the mud. Hansen himself physically stopped trucks from spreading crushed rock, as that would make the fields unworkable in future years. The first day saw more people in attendance than food providers had planned for, and there was a definite lack of toilet facilities. Those problems were quickly remedied for the remainder of the week.
Many campground sites were filled within a 50-mile radius of Vernon Center. All hotel and motel rooms in Mankato were filled, and over 1,200 rooms were rented on campus. The fall term at MSU had been delayed for the year. The international plow teams all stayed in Gage Hall. Individuals in Mankato rented rooms through the Chamber of Commerce. And, of course, people in and around Vernon Center learned they had numerous relatives coming for a visit.
The 1972 Farmfest USA was termed “the largest agricultural exhibition ever.” Attendance for the seven days was close to 500,000. The event made a $35,000 profit for sponsors Agricultural Promotions Inc., plus the repayment of $50,000 on a state loan. “This may be the first time in Minnesota that someone repaid the state,” quipped a representative of API.
Today a Cairn of Peace, containing stones from 19 of the countries represented in the contest, marks the site of the 1972 Farmfest. It sits just off Highway 169, north of Vernon Center.
Farmfest is now held at Gilfillan Estates near Redwood Falls (28269 Highway 67, Morgan). It runs Tuesday to Thursday.
The 2019 world contest will be held in Lake of the Woods August 30-31, 2019 two miles south of Baudette. The USA ploughing contest will follow the day after on September 1 st, 2019.
This prestigious international competition brings together the world’s best ploughers from over 30 countries. These competitors are the best of the best with each having to win their respective countries contest to qualify for this worldwide contest.
Visitors from across the world will be met with an exciting program with multiple highlights such as the stubble and grassland ploughing competitions in which the participants must prove their mastery, expertise and attention to detail. In addition, there will be local tours, guided fishing, displays and exhibits, demonstrations of agricultural equipment, top entertainment, a variety of local foods and beverages and more.