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From left, Francis Gilles and James Link, both of Wahpeton, N.D., explore the exhibits Tuesday at the Big Iron Farm Show at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo. Link is driving a replica of a 1957 Chevy built on a golf cart chassis. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Ag Secretary Vilsack a big draw at Big Iron

Chances are U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack doesn't need convincing that farm issues are important to the nation at large. The crowd that came to see him speak at the Big Iron Farm Show Tuesday probably doesn't, either.

The trick, he said, is getting all the non-farmers out there on board.

"We represent less than 1 percent of the population, and we've got to convince the other 99 percent of the population that what we do matters to their life," he said. "A farm bill isn't just about farmers and ranchers - it's about every consumer in this country."

Speaking at Big Iron's Events and Issues tent, Vilsack touched on a number of agriculture issues, ranging from questions about the sometimes-controversial Conservation Reserve Program to the importance of bringing more young people into an aging farm work force.

His visit was one of a handful of highlights from Big Iron's opening day Tuesday. Vilsack's talk followed a debate-style panel with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner candidates Doug Goehring and Merle Boucher.

Other big draws included field demonstrations of one-pass air seeders, an antique farm machinery show and the Big Iron craft show. The antique machinery and craft shows will continue today and Thursday.

More than 600 vendors set up shop in more than 900 booths, according to Brian Schulz, the show's general manager. Before the show started, Schulz said attendance was expected to climb as high as 80,000 people, weather-permitting.

The grounds were relatively sparse during a gray and blustery morning at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, but the sun made an appearance by midday, and brought a healthy crowd with it. Show-goers packed the exhibit buildings, chatted up vendors, and admired the multi-ton pieces of agriculture equipment on display.

Wayne Olson of West Fargo said he's been coming to Big Iron for longer than he can remember. He came to take a look at the show's equipment - tools, new vehicles, and the like.

"It's hard to do it all in one day," he said.

Other visitors took advantage of one of the show's most tempting opportunities: the chance to climb into the driver's seat of a giant tractor.

Doug Anderson, a corn and beans farmer from Porter, Minn., spent a few moments perched in the cab of a massive 600-horsepower Case IH tractor. He said he has a 450-horsepower tractor on his own farm, but isn't planning on upgrading anytime soon.

"I'm just looking," he said. "It's the next big thing."


If you go

What: Big Iron Farm Show

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday

Where: Red River Valley Fairgrounds, West Fargo

Info: Admission is free. For more information, call (701) 282-2200 or visit