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Reporter’s Notebook: National Ag Day 2022

My eyes shot open 3 minutes before my alarm. It always happens when I have an exciting event ahead. It was Tuesday, National Ag Day!

I mobile ordered my breakfast at the Starbucks downstairs while I crammed my belongings back in my suitcase. After spending a full day in business professional clothes on Monday for the first time in a long time, it felt good to put on my cowboy boots and favorite pair of leather earrings.

In the hotel lobby, I found the John Deere crew also caffeinating for the day ahead. We made the short walk over to The National Mall as the sun rose. The crisp, 55°F. air felt good as I power walked to their display on the west end of the Mall. 

As we moved past construction, commuters, and taxis, I was struck by the stark difference from my usual surroundings. When I wake up in Grandview, Iowa, there are no sirens. No suits. There are no morning runners or coffee stops. I could go days without seeing anyone but my immediate family. Here I was in D.C. before 8 a.m., and I’m sure I’d already seen more people there than in the total population of our small town. It wouldn’t be my cup of tea on a daily basis, but for the day, it was energizing.

We arrived at the John Deere booth and I quickly learned I wasn’t the only early bird. Several camera crews were set up already. I’m not a big selfie taker, but I couldn’t resist climbing up on the sprayer for a shot with the Capitol in the background.

John Deere sprayer at sunrise on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: Natalina Sents Bausch

Chad Passman, Deere’s public and industry relations manager, talked with me about their messages for lawmakers and the public. It was fascinating to hear a bit about what it took to get such large equipment delivered to The National Mall. That combine had a 50-foot head! I’m sure glad it’s not my job to manage all those logistics. That takes a skill (and patience) I don’t have.

From Deere, I strolled to the other end of the Mall, trying to memorize the layout and soak in the morning sun. I typed tweets as I walked. I remember what it was like to watch big ag events from home when I was in college and didn’t have the opportunity to travel. Following along on social media satisfied a little bit of my FOMO, so I try to return the favor with my live coverage when I’m on the road for Successful Farming.

On the east end of the Mall I caught up with several familiar AGCO faces. They brought in both Fendt and Massey Ferguson machines. I was thrilled when I spotted Xaver. I got to see it last fall in Wisconsin, but Ag Day was the robot’s first public appearance. Rawley Hicks shot a few short videos with me to explain the concept. I’m eager to see what our farmer readers think of it. The kids that stopped by as I packed up my gear sure seemed fascinated. I heard a few members of Congress took a turn controlling the technology from a cell phone.

Xaver on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: AgNewsWire

As soon as I wrapped up a video with AGCO’s Aaron Belanger about all the work it took to pull off bringing farm machinery to D.C., my phone died. I’m so thankful AEM had a media tent set up right in the middle of the Mall with Wi-Fi AND power outlets! (Some event organizers don’t think of those things, and it really slows down my ability to share information with farmers.)

My failing battery turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While my phone charged, I jumped on a couple of calls. One of them was a training on some Google tools I can use to make my stories more visually interesting and data-rich. I’m already daydreaming about all the ways I can use these time-lapse maps to tell stories about weather, urban sprawl, and land use.

Secretary Vilsack addresses the Ag Day crowd

I had to jump off the call early to prepare for the next big agenda item – Secretary Vilsack’s address. I’d just seen him make three announcements at Commodity Classic earlier this month, so I didn’t figure he’d break any news, but I was curious to see what his talking points would be for the holiday. Because of COVID, he hasn’t made many public appearances and the USDA building is still mostly closed.

After being introduced by the undersecretary, Vilsack took the mic. “There are indeed a lot of very important people in this audience,” he said calling out a few well-known faces. “But I’ll tell you who the most important person is from my perspective, taking nothing away from all those important people. There’s a young lady that’s wearing an FFA jacket,” he said calling for the Virginia student, Katie Powell to join him on stage. “It’s National Ag Day. It’s your day,” he said as she took her place in his empty chair on stage.

Vilsack gestures to Katie Powell, an FFA student he invited on stage at the National Ag Day celebration in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: AgNewsWire

In his nine minutes at the podium, Vilsack reminded the crowd that Abraham Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture 160 years ago. Preparing for the celebration, Vilsack pondered, “What Abe would think.” In 1862, about 90% of Americans lived on farms. According to Farm Bureau, farm and ranch families comprise less than 2% of the U.S. population today.

“I’m pretty sure he would believe, as he believed back then, that a country united can do the impossible. And a country divided has difficulty doing anything.”

Vilsack went on to praise the “innovative spirit” on display around the Mall that’s necessary to “accept the challenges of today.” He said, “We accept the challenge of climate change and agriculture’s role in addressing it. We accept the challenge of dealing with high production costs in a way that encourage more precision agriculture.”

Vilsack closed by touting record ag exports last year, noting “the highest income we’ve seen in agriculture for a while.”

Abraham Lincoln would be “astounded” by the equipment displayed on the National Mall, Vilsack believes.

Vilsack at the Claas display at National Ag Day
Photo credit: AgNewsWire

More equipment and technology visits

After his time on stage, Vilsack and other dignitaries made the rounds visiting more companies.

I headed to Topcon to meet with Ryan Pieper and Michael Gomes. The team spent their time on the Mall showing off CropSpec, Norac boom sensors, and the CL-55 modem, explaining how these tools allow farmers to make data-driven decisions.

Next, I made my way to Case IH. I walked up on Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall having a little photo shoot in the tractor. “This is fancy!” he said as he climbed up in the cab. “Can I take this home?” I heard him joke with his staff.

Zippy Duvall sits in a Case IH tractor displayed on the National Mall for National Ag Day
Photo credit: Natalina Sents Bausch

I walked around to the back side of the planter to shoot a couple videos with Matt Booms. A couple checking out the display approached, reminiscing about growing up on a farm in Ohio. It made me so happy to see people from all walks of life connecting with agriculture and each other.

I found David Wilbur at the CLAAS booth. He’s the one who actually drove the company’s Jaguar silage chopper on the National Mall to set up. I have to wonder how many people can say they’ve driven farm machinery in this pace. I expect the list is pretty short. “It’s a bit of a strange feeling with joggers running along side you,” he smiled.

New Holland tractor on display in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: AgNewsWire

I wrapped up my official stops with a brief visit at New Holland. I was surprised their new methane powered tractor wasn’t on display, but it sounds like it’s busy being demoed in other parts of the country.

As I made my way back to the hotel to collect my baggage, I crossed a line of food trucks. After eight hours on my feet in the sun, a strawberry milkshake seemed like the perfect way to celebrate a wonderful, full day. It was a good choice!

What is sweeter than a delicious dairy treat on a warm day? Meeting a friend on the street by surprise! Running into North Dakota farmer Carie Marshall-Moore left me smiling all the way to the airport.

Natalina and Carie on the national mall
Photo credit: Carie Marshall-Moore

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