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Four State Farm Show set for May

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun
Kansas Secretary of Commerce David Toland, left, speaks at a February 2020 event announcing the Four State Farm Show's move to Pittsburg State University.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Last February, community stakeholders gathered at Pittsburg State University’s Robert W. Plaster Center for an announcement — featuring an appearance by then-commerce secretary and now Lt. Gov. David Toland — that the Four State Farm Show would be coming to PSU campus in May.  

A year later, after having to cancel the 2020 farm show due to COVID-19, event organizers announced this week that they are once again aiming for May, and this time, they say — barring another government-mandated lockdown or other unforeseen circumstances beyond their control — the show will go on. 

“We need to have the show, and quite frankly, exhibitors are begging us to have the show,” said Lance Markley, show coordinator and representative of Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, the long-running event’s new promoter. “Some of them — maybe company representatives that don’t really sell at the show — aren’t as concerned, but if their livelihood is derived from exhibiting at the show, they’re way concerned by now.” 

PSU Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato similarly said the university is committed to hosting the show, which is set for May 21 and 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and May 23 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Plaster Center and the surrounding grounds and parking lot. The Four State Farm Show was previously held annually at a rural location south of Pittsburg in Cherokee County, and was typically held in July until 2019. Last year would have been the first show at PSU if it hadn’t been cancelled, and the university still has a multi-year contract to host the show. 

“We obviously recognize that even by May we’re still going to be in a pandemic, but our hope is that between vaccinations and then the mitigation strategies that we can do, that we can do it in a safe way,” Naccarato said, adding that PSU and show organizers are prepared to follow all public health requirements from the Crawford County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 

"But it’s our intent to go forward with the show,” Naccarato said. “We really need to have it.” 

In past years, the Four State Farm Show has typically drawn 20,000 attendees and had about a $1 million economic impact locally. Markley said he thinks this year’s event could easily bring a bigger crowd and have a greater economic impact — if people don’t stay home because of COVID-19 concerns. 

Markley has already sold more than 400 booth spaces for the show, he said, and is actively selling more every day. 

“We had 800 booths sold when we cancelled the show last year, and we had never sold over 700 at the previous location, so exhibitors are excited about the move,” he said. “I mean the only thing keeping us from total perfection, obviously, is the Covid concern.” 

With this being the first year for the Four State Farm Show at PSU, there will be some changes from past events. 

“When we were at the other location, we had several demonstrations, as in hay baling and that type of thing. Obviously, that’s not possible to do at the college location, but to be able to test drive a zero-turn lawn mower was popular there, and we’re bringing that back. We have an area just adjacent to the Bicknell Center where we can test drive lawn mowers, and I think people will take advantage of that,” Markely said. “Other than that, it’s the latest in agricultural technology, products, services, anything from big machinery on down to, you know, insurance, feed, seed, just anything agrarian-related.” 

One new feature at this year’s show will be a “rural living” exhibit space at the Plaster Center, which will give non-agricultural vendors an opportunity to reach farm show attendees. 

Some vendors, however, are still hesitant to commit to this year’s farm show. 

“I mean obviously some of them are concerned that it will get cancelled again, so they’re a little leery in that regard, and some of them have Covid concerns,” Markley said. 

Even so, Markley said he expects vendors and attendees to come from far and wide for the farm show. 

“We call it the Four State Farm Show and that is indeed true, but we’ll have people from beyond that — exhibitors from across the nation and even Canada, if they're allowed to come here, and spectators from several states even out beyond the Four State area,” he said. 

Concerns about the possibility that bringing together so many people from so many places could lead to a coronavirus outbreak played a significant role in the decision to cancel last year’s event — a decision Naccarato said he still believes was the right one to make. 

“We made the decision jointly, looking at this and realizing we could be creating a super spread event, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t do that,” he said. 

Markley also said organizers were wise to cancel last year’s show, but this year he is confident they won’t have to do so again — up to a point. 

“We remain very confident today,” he said, “but having said that, it’s an odd time, and I wouldn’t want to bet a million.” 

Despite the continuing uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Markley said the vaccination rollout — particularly among older people who are likely to make up a large portion of farm show attendees — is one factor that should enable the farm show to move forward. 

“Exhibitors are excited,” Markley said. “I think the public is excited after not having a show, plus other area farm shows have been cancelled, so a lot of people would just be happy to see a show actually happen.” 

Naccarato similarly said that more widespread familiarity with mitigation measures, and many people now having COVID-19 antibodies after having previously had the disease, are factors that will work in show organizers’ favor. 

“We’re confident that we’re going to be able to have the safest possible show that still manages to get folks here to Pittsburg and hopefully helps to drive some economic impact and recovery,” he said.