Having just left careers in Seattle and moved back to the farm in east-central Washington, Cameron Carstensen and Nicole Kay Uken are no strangers to culture shift. Settling into Carstensen's great-grandmother's house and getting into a groove on the family farm is incredibly different than being a sales manager and an actuary in a big city.
"It was a good time for us—and the farm—to make the change,” says Carstensen, who farms with his father and uncle. "Going to Agritechnica was a perfect way to get more immersed in global agriculture.”
The lucky Almira, Wash., couple were the Top Producer winners of a trip to Agritechnica 2009 sponsored by the DLG, host of the world's largest machinery show. As a part of the experience, the pair attended a European Young Farmers conference that brought together 500 young entrepreneurs to listen to a panel discussion and attend an enormous Young Farmer's Party with some 2,700 attendees.
All Corners of the World. "The panel was one of my favorite parts of the trip,” Carstensen explains. "There were farmers from Germany, Russia, Spain, Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand. They talked about the challenges they face and how they plan to make their farm profitable long-term.”
Beyond the gatherings designed to network farmers, Carstensen also made connections on the show floor. Even though there were more than 350,000 visitors from 81 countries at the show in Hanover, Germany, during the second week of November, it was easy to connect one-on-one with other attendees.
The couple actually started networking on the shuttle ride to the show. "We sat next to an Italian businessman who worked for a construction machinery company,” Carstensen says. "He was heading to the show for business meetings.”
That was the first connection, but certainly not the last. "I talked to a Russian farmer at one of the booths for almost an hour about his tillage practices,” he adds.
The couple tackled the 18 halls sprawling across the Hanover fairground to see as many of the 2,300 exhibits as possible. Most of the halls are organized by type of exhibit on display, but the breadth of the show stretches far beyond farm shows in the U.S. In addition to crop-related machinery, there were expansive displays relating to forestry, biofuels, livestock, toys and the latest university research.
"One of the coolest things we saw was a prototype of a machine that looked like a hand,” Carstensen wrote in his trip journal. "In theory, it could connect to equipment in place of a steering wheel and would mimic your movements.”
In Their Own Words
The couple's winning 150-word essay says it all:
"This past year, my wife and I quit our careers in Seattle and moved to my family's farm in rural Washington. We will be the fourth generation on this farm and part of an even longer line of farmers preceding my great-grandfather's arrival from northern Germany. We realize that making our farm successful into this next century will require a respect for the tradition that has sustained farming as a way of life for our family for so long. But it will also require increasing innovation, tapping into technology's ability to improve efficiency and optimize returns. We're hoping to attend Agritechnica to learn about cutting-edge innovations, talk with farmers from around the world to learn different approaches and step outside of the mentality of ‘this is the way it's always been done.' It would be a unique opportunity for us to combine both our past and our future.”
Top Producer, January 2010