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The Greater Peoria Farm Show returns to the Civic Center for its 40th anniversary

Farmers from across central Illinois are visiting downtown Peoria this week as the state’s largest indoor agriculture trade show returns to the Peoria Civic Center.

The three-day Greater Peoria Farm Show — with free admission — opened Tuesday, celebrating its 40th anniversary at the Civic Center after COVID-19 canceled last year's show.

“What we're excited about this year is just how excited everyone is to be here, from the exhibitors to the event facility staff, a lot of these folks who've worked with for a long time,” said John Riles Jr., vice president of business development for Minnesota-based Midwest Shows, Inc.

“We’re feeling that everywhere we go and we’re excited to be here. Our goal is to continue to do this show for 40, 50, 60 years, and so we're really in partnership with the facility.”

Riles said his company organizes six shows each year, with other events in Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Iowa.

“This is kind of our first event of the show season,” he said. “Most of these farmers appreciate coming to events like these in the winter when they're not in the fields, so we kick off with this show always held the first week after Thanksgiving.”

About 180 exhibitors have booths at this year’s event, showing off equipment, supplies, new products and innovations to area farmers.

“Everything from manufacturers to service providers that are focused on the ag community and the rural areas, the things that they need,” said Riles, noting the show also has daily presentations from grain market analyst Todd Hultman.

“We generally target about a 100-mile radius around Peoria for this event," said Riles. "We get exhibitors that come from across the country, Canada; they come from everywhere to be at events like these, and obviously it's a great area for farming.”

Since the first Greater Peoria Farm Show in 1982, the event has drawn more than 600,000 visitors — an average of 15,000 each year. Civic Center general manager Rik Edgar said that attendance figure emphasizes the event's significance.

“The farm show means a lot. It brings people from other communities into our hotels and been a great partner of over 40 years,” said Edgar. “It shows that this facility is important to the economic impact of this community, as well as to the region. So we really appreciate the farm show as well as our other consumer events that come back year after year because it allows people to see Peoria.”

JD Dalfonso, the president and CEO of Discover Peoria (formerly the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau), said he was delighted to see people returning to the show, adding it offers a bit of optimism for downtown hospitality businesses that struggled during the pandemic.

“My heart flutters with excitement, seeing our farmers come together — with agriculture being the top industry and state of Illinois — either just to talk about farming or then even advanced the technologies here. I think it means so much.

“From a community standpoint, seeing bodies here in the Civic Center, the cornerstone of downtown, coming out and spending money, enjoying the restaurants and hospitality industry has struggled so hard throughout COVID, and kind of see this glimpse that revitalization as we come into the new year." He added it's also a great kick off "to a convention season that we're going to have in the spring of '22.

Dalfonso said the CVB’s conservative projections estimate the farm show generates an economic impact of between $30,000-$40,000.

“Now, that's upwards to probably six figures in spending that people are doing here, and so that's the residual effect that comes when people can meet in person, particularly at a venue like this,” he said.

Riles noted the ag industry has been receptive to technological advances and pointed to increased use of drones and solar power in farming.

“They're trying to use their land to kind of capitalize on opportunities and manage that land more efficiently,” he said. “They're good stewards of the land as well, so there's a lot of people talking about planting strategies and things they can do to make sure that their land is as healthy as possible, because that's the value that they have. So, it's interesting to hear all of the different concerns that they bring to the table here and they talk about at the show.”

The Greater Peoria Farm Show continues from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in the Civic Center’s exhibit halls.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.