PLAID – it’s a family thing

Wheat variety

On-farm demonstration is literally something I grew up with.  Some of my clearest childhood memories are of the day my Dad – a full-time farmer who supplemented the family income by selling PAG seed corn (maize, in British English) – organised a demonstration event at our farm in Canada.  The plots of different seedcorn varieties were clearly labelled along our lane, but the big draw was Bobby Hull – a famous National Hockey League ice hockey player  –  who my parents had hired to come and speak to the participants.  I can’t remember what Bobby Hull said – I expect it had more to do with his hockey memories than the merits of particular corn varieties – but I do remember how excited everyone was to see him.  Our yard and equipment shed (cleaned out specially for the event) was full – it seemed like half the kids on the school bus got off at our stop that day, and their parents soon joined them.

I asked my dad recently why he put on that event.  He said that he’d been to field days before, where the farmer had set up acres of demonstration plots and “only five guys with pick-up trucks turned up.  It was embarrassing – all that work”. So my Dad – never one to do things in a small way – decided to make his demonstration a major event.  He set up the demonstration plots of corn, but he also got the local machinery dealers to bring some equipment, and the local Dodge dealer too.  He said “We didn’t want just the men, we wanted the wives and kids”, so they invited families and he had it catered – a group from my Mom’s church fed a couple of hundred people in our equipment shed.  Cargill, the parent company of PAG at the time, paid for the catering, and Mom and Dad the cover charge for Bobby Hull. It was a big risk, but Dad said it paid off in seed corn sales – he more than made the money back.  Those customers stayed customers for years.

Demonstration on commercial farms is the central focus of PLAID – we’re looking at why farmers demonstrate and what works.  For my Dad, it was a commercial prospect (and I suspect, an opportunity to meet one of his heroes).  He wasn’t a trained agricultural educator – I don’t think he received any training at all - but he always said he knew intuitively how to sell. He involved whole families, something that is pretty important to me in PLAID – that the demonstration isn’t just about reaching the ‘primary farmer’ but everyone who works on farms, giving them the opportunity to learn new things and meet new people.  And he made it memorable – when I see people in our local community again, decades later, they still talk about that day.

Author: Lee-Ann Sutherland, The James Hutton Institute, Scotland