8/16/2014 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor
As many as 1,800 people attended this year’s Virginia Ag Expo at the Bleak House Farm in Northumberland County, Va.
The one-day show, held Aug. 7, featured 151 sponsors and exhibitors, along with field tours presented by Virginia Cooperative Extension and a showcase featuring vintage tractors bought and restored by the late Frederick Downing.
“The crowd was excellent. The weather was beaufiful,” said John W. Smith, show manager.
The annual show goes to a different spot each year, with Virginia’s Northern Neck hosting this year’s event.
“We try to go somewhere in a different region. The reason that we go from location to location is to showcase something a little different,” Smith said.
The Downing family, owners of Bleak House Farm, requested the show come to their farm back in 2010.
The farm is situated on the banks of the Glebe branch of the Coan River in Northumberland County. It’s been in the same family for close to 200 years and has earned the designation of Century Farm. The original farmhouse burned down in the 1800s, but was rebuilt in 1841.
After the death of his father, Homer Downing, Frederick Downing and his wife, Ellen, assumed the management of the farm operation. At that point, the farm consisted of 102 acres of workable land. In 1976, the Downings purchased the adjacent farm known as Wheatland. In subsequent years, they purchased additional farmland, which together with rented land, has resulted in a farming operation today of more than 2,400 acres.
In addition to acquiring more farmland, Frederick Downing changed the focus of the farm from vegetables and livestock to small grains.
According to a biography of the farm, Frederick Downing was an avid collector of antique tractors, “which he restored with loving care.”
“Frederick was not only a collector, he restored and sold tractors,” Smith said. “There is a big difference between collectors and restorers. Collectors have enough money to buy something that’s already been restored.”
Frederick Downing helped found the Antique Tractor Club and the annual Antique Tractor Pull at the Callao Ruritan field.
Frederick Downing died in 2001. His wife, Ellen, and sons Michael and Mark, currently preside over the day-to-day management of the farm, raising barley, wheat, corn and soybeans. They also do custom field operations and hauling.
Virginia Cooperative Extension organized a number of field tours at the day-long event focusing on diseases and insects in corn and soybeans; weed control and weed resistance management; and high-yield corn and soybean management. There was also a safety demonstration for handling bulk seed containers.
This year’s expo was the 35th overall and the 10th expo managed by Smith. He said the expo has ground considerably since he took over in 2004. At that time, the 60-foot-by-90-foot exhibit tent wasn’t even full. This year, the 60-foot-by-200-foot exhibit tent was completely full with exhibitors from as far away as Colorado. Attendance has also gone up.
“There has been some talk about a permanent location, or rotating between the state’s Extension research stations. But in my opinion, people are interested in seeing what other people are doing on their own farm,” he said. “It just keeps getting bigger and better each year.”
Next year’s Virginia Ag Expo will take place Aug. 6, 2015, at Brooke Farms LLC, owned and operated by the Chambers family of Locust Grove, Orange County.