How I Spent a Summer Day At Penn State’s Ag Progress Days

Terry D. Etherton

Ag Progress Days Image 1 2009

I had a wonderful (and sweltering) time at Ag Progress Days (APD) last week.  This is an event sponsored by the College of Agricultural Sciences and attracted about 50,000 attendees over three days.

I have been asked:  what do you do out there for three days?  A lot (more about this later)!  And, the faculty and staff in the Department of Dairy and Animal Science do a great deal to put on a variety of educational and science-based programs for APD attendees.

Ag Progress Days Horse

Our faculty and staff spend a lot of time months in advance of APD planning the many educational programs we put on.  For example, our equine science group plans the 22 events that are held over three days in the large outdoor arena as part of the famous Equine Experience.  The group also plans and organizes 12 demonstrations/lectures that are held in the Equine Exhibits Building.  And this year, we held eight education programs in the Animal Science facility that addressed topics that ranged from feeding the world with technology (multiple programs with a dairy and livestock emphasis) to learning more about animal well-being (with both a pet and livestock focus).

Now to the question of what I do at APD?

Relationship building and maintenance takes up a lot of my time.

I meet with colleagues and friends from a variety of industry and commodity groups to discuss a host of topics and needs.  In many ways, these conversations are strategic planning about what to do in a variety of areas that are part of the Departments’ mission.  Since the department spans science and management practices from dogs and cats to deer, beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine, sheep, horses and deer, that is a lot of turf to cover!

I also meet a lot of folks for the first time.  Parents and prospective students have questions that focus on how to get into Penn State.  It is great fun to talk with “Mom and Dad” about what major their son or daughter might pursue at Penn State.

This year I even had a chance conversation with a dairy producer who just returned from Russia – we talked a lot about the dairy industry in Russia, and that evolved to a conversation about how to bring our expertise to the dairy industry in China.  That morning I would never have thought I would have that conversation!  How this idea might play out in the future is pretty foggy right now.  However, that is the fun of building programs from ideas!

For a few years at APD I participated in a horse riding “event” with the former Dean of the College (Bob Steele) and Graham Spanier, President of Penn State.  The first point essential to the story I share below is that in my life I have not ridden horses more than 10 to 15 times–so, I am a real rookie at this. I am lucky I have not fallen off a horse!

The Story – One of the funnier horse riding “events” that I have been involved in at APD relates to a “competition” my equine science staff thought would be entertaining!  They concocted the idea that President Spanier, Dean Steele and I would ride around the outdoor arena holding a spoon with an egg atop it.  The last rider left holding the spoon with the egg “won”.  I thought this had entertainment potential until at the last second my colleagues shared they had glued my egg to the spoon, and I would be the “winner”!   Dean Steele and President Spanier did not have their eggs glued to their spoons!

As fate would have it, President Spanier is very good at riding horses!  And, the event went on and on until the announcer thought we should stop.  President Spanier still had his egg atop the spoon, as did I!  I thought it would “great fun” to wave at the crowd with the spoon and glued egg.  Everyone in the grandstands seemed amused.  I was not sure about President Spanier.  I have now retired from providing entertainment for the crowd at the Equine Experience from atop a horse.

Relationships are about people. In putting on the number of events that the Department does at APD, there is always the reality that issues and questions come up during the event.  I am fortunate to have a remarkably talented group of colleagues in the Department that manage all of this, and do a great deal to make APD a fun and educational experience for attendees.

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