Students involved with the Western Illinois University Ag Mech Show, Feb. 8 and 9, learn lessons on everything from time management to communications and accounting skills. The show is the largest student-run farm show in the nation.
Students involved with the Western Illinois University Ag Mech Show, Feb. 8 and 9, learn lessons on everything from time management to communications and accounting skills. The show is the largest student-run farm show in the nation.

MACOMB, Ill. — The work that Western Illinois University Ag Mech Club students put into the Ag Mech Show goes far beyond the year of show preparation or the hectic days that lead up to and include the show itself.

“When I interview for internships, that’s something that each company has mentioned. They’ve been to the show or they’ve been a vendor at the show. It’s nice that they know about the show and how much work goes into it,” said Jamie Ellerbrock, a junior ag business major at WIU and the vice president of advertising for the show.

While college students might lean toward finishing assignments at the last minute, for the students involved in the year-long show planning, that’s not an option.

“I’ve had to be proactive — there’s no procrastination,” Ellerbrock said.

Ellerbrock and fellow members of the Ag Mech Club, along with some 30 to 40 members of the WIU Agriculture Department, will gain even more experience as the WIU Ag Mech Show runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 8 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 9 at Western Hall on the WIU Macomb campus.

The annual farm show is completely run by students, from registering vendors to advertising and public relations and show setup and teardown.

Katie Pratt, an Illinois grain farmer along with her husband, Andy, and one of the “Faces of Farming and Ranching” of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, will be the keynote speaker at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 8.

Ellerbrock was the club’s financial secretary last year and was chosen vice president of advertising for this year’s show. Officers for the show are chosen in the second semester preceding the next year’s show.

“It’s constant planning that we do,” Ellerbrock said.

The work on the show never stops for the students who are organizing it, giving them a taste of meeting deadlines and being accountable to vendors.

“Over break, I came in a few times to process registrations,” said Greg Hoener, a junior ag education major from Sutter in Hancock County. He is the vice president of expo operations.

“I get all the registration forms in and send out invoices, get everybody registered for the show and assign booth spaces, send out move-in packets. On move-in day, I coordinate the exhibitors moving in and make sure everyone is helping them get moved in,” he said.

Hoener said the experience has taught him how to balance multiple tasks.

“Time management was a really big one, learning how to manage all this and my classes. Communication also is a big one. I’ve been talking to vendors. Those are the two biggest things I’ve picked up from this job,” he said.

Hoener and the others organizing the show didn’t get to ease back into their second semester after holiday break.

“I got back from break and was in the office all day. All my free time was spent in the office the past couple of weeks, and I spent about five hours on Sunday. These last couple of weeks have been the busiest,” he said.

The success of the show and its popularity among guests and vendors can be seen in a concrete way — all the vendor spaces are filled.

That includes about a dozen new vendors. All of the spaces for the popular arts and crafts show are filled, too.

“We filled up all of our spaces, and we’re really happy about the farm toy and the craft show side, too,” Ellerbrock said.

The show strives to be a family event and offers something for everyone’s interests, including the arts and crafts show and a farm toy show and a kiddie pedal tractor pull.

The leadership of the show can be a family affair. Hoener is a good example of that. His older brother Michael served as president of the club in Greg’s freshman year.

“It was all right. I did whatever he needed help with. I’m glad I did because it was a good learning experience, and it got me ready for right now,” he said.

This year’s show will include a reunion for alumni of the WIU agriculture program. Reunion activities on Feb. 8 include a social time from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the WIU Multicultural Center across from the University Union; a bull test open house at the WIU Farm; state FFA interview contest and ag issues contest at Knoblauch Hall; and an ag communications workshop in Stipes Hall.