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A Chance to Look into the Future

Pilgrimage to Peoria is enlightening...really.

I'm headed to Peoria, Ill., later this week for a peek into the future...really. Peoria, home to Caterpiller, for one weekend is home to the future of agricultural engineering. This is where students from around the country travel as part of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers 1/4 Scale Tractor International Student Design Competition.

While that's a mouthful - let me tell you it's a great weekend of being with future engineers. The students are competing with their own tractor designs, but it's more than an iron-bending event. Student teams must also create a plan for their design, choose a market and develop a strategy for the manufacture of their finished product.

I've been to the event several times, and I do act as a judge in at least one category when I attend, so I may be a bit biased about the event itself. But these higher-level student competitions that provide real-world experiences offer these future engineers a look at the jobs their signing on for. They must work within a defined set of rules; they have to define their market; justify their approach; and in the end create a finished product.

This field of tractors are from the 2008 competition. Showing the range of designs and effort that goes into the annual 1/4 Scale Tractor International Student Design Competition.

And for the students, the finished product is the fun part too because the tractors they build they also put into a tractor pull competition. A solid portion of the points they earn come from having a working tractor that can pull. And it's the pull that's the most visual part of the event.

Personally, I like the maneuverability test, where a unique set of stanchions - each topped with a golf ball - line a course. This test pushes the designs to turn tight and maneuver through the course with the clock as the task master. It's fun to watch.

There's plenty of nerve going on too. Each of these college teams is decked out in their respective school colors as are their tractors. There's plenty of pride from the competitors, but also a sense of camaraderie too as teams work to finish their tractors or make repairs quickly.

But I see this as glimpse at the future. Sure the tractors can be pretty basic - but trust me a lot of engineering ideas are incorporated from custom axle designs to student-built transmissions. So it's a look at the future engineering potential for you and your farm. These students want to be part of the industry and they want to innovate the products you use on your farm. I get to see the energy, the enthusiasm and the innovation they offer. And given what I've seen so far in the years I've worked at the event...the future looks good.

I'll do some blogging from the event this week giving you some updates on what's going on as the event unfolds. So start checking this out on Friday through the weekend. I'll post the winning team Sunday night after we all survive the banquet (they have to listen to yours-truly as Master of Ceremonies, although I try to stick to the ASABE script).

And if you're near Peoria and want to see some pulling - check out Expo Gardens. There'll be some pulling on Friday afternoon; but the serious pulls are on Saturday when the first class - 1,050-pound - pulls begin at 4 p.m. And the final pull event is at 10 a.m. Sunday when the 1,550 class gets going. You can check out the schedule of events by visiting Schedule.

I'm looking forward to a good time.

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