Thousands of people wandered past an autonomous planter, robotic milkers and other advanced farm equipment as they made their way through the heart of the National Mall on Monday and Tuesday, which was National Agriculture Day. 

Equipment companies and industry groups rolled in equipment and set up tents for the Celebration of Modern Agriculture, an event sponsored by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers that was held on the National Mall. With Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument in the background, members of Congress, government officials, and roughly 16,000 visitors wandered the booths as they talked to vendors and learned about high-tech farm equipment. 

This was the first time that the event has been held, but Kip Eideberg, senior vice president of government and industry relations for AEM, envisions it continuing into the future. 

“This was supposed to happen in 2020,” he said. “And then obviously with the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to postpone and then we had to postpone again in 2021. So we are thrilled to finally be able to pull this off this year.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and USDA's Deputy Secretary, Jewel Bronaugh, made an appearance on Tuesday. As he spoke to a crowd, Vilsack said former President Abraham Lincoln, who signed legislation in 1862 which created USDA, would be “pleased” with the way agriculture has progressed.

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“I think he would be pleased that we're expanding the notion of agriculture,” Vilsack said. “The idea that it just doesn't have to happen in a rural area – it can happen in a big city, too. It can happen on a rooftop. It can happen in a building. It can happen in the lab.”

Afterward, Vilsack wandered the mall, checking out the CLAAS forage harvester used to chop silage, a CASE IH tractor with precision agriculture capabilities attached to a planter, and a small planting robot from AGCO. After being offered a phone to control AGCO’s robot, Vilsack sent it speeding toward a nearby photographer. “Nervous?” he asked with a mischievous grin. “You should be.”

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., also made appearances, showing up to the event on Monday. In a speech, Stabenow said now is an “interesting, challenging time” for farmers, noting the current lofty state of input costs and crop prices. 

“I have tremendous confidence in the people who are being represented by the leaders who are here on the mall,” Stabenow said. 

Among the technology up for display was an X9 combine from John Deere, which the company had to ship to a local dealer and then move through the city from there, according to Chad Passman, the public and industry relations manager for North American agriculture at John Deere.

“I think it left the dealership somewhere in the morning hours and then it didn't arrive until about 5:45 on the National Mall,” Passman said. “So there was about six hours of transport getting that machine from the local dealer down to the National Mall.”

Clean Fuels Alliance America, a group advocating for expansion in the biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel industries, displayed sanitation trucks that ran on 100% biodiesel. The trucks are part of the larger District of Columbia municipal fleet.

“It's been a longtime partnership, and when we presented the opportunity to the city to tell the story, to display the trucks, they were very quickly on board,” Paul Winters, the director of public affairs and federal communications at CFAA.

The National Agricultural Aviation Association brought a Bell Model 240 helicopter to its booth on the mall. The organization, which represents aerial pesticide applicators and other pilots involved in agriculture, thought coming to the mall would help better educate people in cities about what agricultural aviators do.

“This is a great way to get a lot of people from rural America here to exhibit their importance, what they do and the care in which they do it,” Andrew Moore, NAAA chief executive officer, said.

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