Big Iron's 40th year to be especially memorable

This will be Dave Gehrtz's 38th year at the annual Big Iron Farm Show, which celebrates its 40th anniversary Sept. 15-17 at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo., N.D. Gehrtz, chairman of the Big Iron Farm Show Committee, said he's confident this year's event will be successful despite the coronavirus pandemic.

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This will be the 38th year that Dave Gehrtz, chairman of the Big Iron Farm Show Committee and a veteran area agriculturalist, will participate in Big Iron, which celebrates what's new and innovative in agriculture. (Jaryn Homiston / Agweek)

WEST FARGO, N.D. — Dave Gehrtz strolled through the nearly deserted Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo, N.D., on a pleasant mid-August afternoon. As he walked, he talked about the history of nearby buildings and how they contributed to the growth and popularity of the annual Big Iron Farm Show, to be held Sept. 15-17 in West Fargo.

The he paused for a moment before saying, "In a month this place is going to be full of people again. And I honestly believe we're going to have another very successful show."

This will be the 38th year that Gehrtz, chairman of the Big Iron Farm Show Committee and a veteran area agriculturalist, will participate in Big Iron, which celebrates what's new and innovative in agriculture. And though this year's event faces special challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic, the show will go on, he said.

Big Iron officials never considered cancelling the 2020 event, Gehrtz said.

"The only way this show will be canceled is if the county or state health department shuts us down," he said.


The rationale is, "Agriculture is so important in this part of the world. And Big Iron helps farmers stay informed about all the new technology and equipment that's available," said Gehrtz, a New Rockford, N.D.-based district sales manager for ProSeed who will help to staff his company's Big Iron booth again this year.

Big Iron officials are working with the Cass County Public Health Department and the North Dakota Department of Health to make sure that the North Dakota Smart Restart guidelines are followed, Gehrtz said.

"We're doing our absolute best to keep people as safe as they possibly can be," he said. "If you don't feel safe attending, then please don't attend."

Among the many safety measures to be implemented: Exhibits will be spaced over Big Iron's 350 acres, the food court will be moved to another area to provide more space between vendors, and food vendors and Big Iron staff will be required to wear face masks. Attendees will be strongly encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.

There will be other changes because of the pandemic. Major exhibitors John Deere, Case and New Holland won't be attending, and the popular International Visitors Program will offer online sessions instead of bringing foreign visitors to West Fargo in person.

Big Iron still has a "pretty good waiting list" of companies that would like to exhibit at the show but can't do so because of insufficient space, Gehrtz said.

The exhibit space that would be occupied by Deere, Case and New Holland will be used to spread out exhibits of companies that do participate this year, he said.

Many returning exhibitors will be in different spots this year, so visitors should get a map of this year's layout in advance, Gehrtz said.


Gehrtz said it's difficult to estimate how many people will visit this year's Big Iron. Normally, 60,000 to 70,000 people attend over the three days. But he's hopeful of attracting 10,000 people on each of the three days this year.

Forty years of history

A little history provided by Big Iron officials:

A group of area agribusinesspeople organized and held the first Big Iron in the fall of 1980 at the North Dakota State University Agronomy Farm near Casselton, N.D. About 10 companies participated. More than 1,200 people attended, nearly triple the number expected.

The next year, the event was held at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, with about 100 companies participating and 10,000 people attending. And for this, its second year, the original and somewhat clunky name — the Red River Agribusiness Equipment and Service Exposition -- was changed to Big Iron.

Over time, the event has grown and evolved. What hasn't changed is the free admission, the three-day duration and the requirement that all exhibits must be ag-related.

Even as Big Iron fine-tunes its preparations for the 2020 event, officials are beginning to plan for 2022, too.

"We're looking forward to it, The pandemic will be behind us, and it's going to be great," Gehrtz said. "But like I said, I really think this year's show will be very successful, too."

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