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AIN board works behind scenes at HHD

Since its inception in the mid-1970s, the Agricultural Institute of Nebraska has been instrumental in HHD’s success.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

August 11, 2023

6 Slides

It takes a village … to put on the largest totally irrigated working farm show in the world.

And that village for Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, Neb., has always included the locally based Agricultural Institute of Nebraska, along with Nebraska Farmer and Farm Progress and ag equipment dealers.

Driver of the show

The AIN board, starting with the planning stages in 1976, has provided crucial infrastructure and volunteer support for HHD. That means the 11 board members do whatever is needed to pull off the show every year.

In the early days of the show, it meant dealing with traffic duty and parking cars, volunteering for harvest demonstrations, and providing almost any other help needed for the show staff. And that part hasn’t changed.

“AIN was the driver to found HHD, and has been involved in the event ever since,” says Matt Jungmann, Farm Progress national show manager. “Through the different ownerships, managers and structures through the years, it is impressive that the group has continued through the evolution of HHD.”

Jungmann notes that there are AIN board members who are the second generation in the family to be involved. “This speaks to the solid nature of their involvement in the show,” he adds. “The AIN crew does a great job with all of the hard work that needs to be done to put together an event of the magnitude of HHD.”

Why do they do it? “Because we care about the show, and we care about agriculture,” says longtime and now-retired AIN board member Larry Wilhelmi, who served on AIN from 1982 until 2017.

“In those first few years, we were flying by the seat of our pants much of the time,” says retired AIN board member Les Schimmer, who served from 1980 to 2018. “But over the years, we learned how to delegate, and it got much easier.”

‘Can-do’ spirit

Today, AIN carries that “can-do” spirit into HHD every year, board president Kevin Knuth says. They help behind the scenes, volunteering or lining up more than 100 other volunteers to assist with information booths on the show site — and all the harvest, tillage, haying and other field demonstrations, as well as cattle handling for the show. They provide scholarships annually for nine Nebraska graduating seniors, offer support for local first responders that help with HHD, and do whatever they can to make HHD better every year and to support agriculture in the region.

Knuth started volunteering at HHD with cattle-handling demonstrations when he was only 14 years old. So, as an adult, it was only natural — with his familiarity and love of the show — to join the AIN board and continue to pitch in.

Wilhelmi and Schimmer recall many of their efforts over the years that have been successful and a few that were not continued. “We used to do silage demonstrations in those first few years,” Schimmer recalls. “We had potato plots and sunflowers too. These were not very big plots, maybe a couple of acres that we would harvest during the show.”

Wilhelmi recalls many of the extra duties required of AIN. “I recall one couple looking for their car in the parking lot one year,” he says. “I stopped and asked them if I could help. They said that their car was parked by a blue pickup, and they were standing by a blue pickup, but their car wasn’t where it was supposed to be. We finally figured out that there were a lot of blue pickups in the parking lot, and that they weren’t looking in the correct lot. They did finally find their vehicle.”

Another time, Wilhelmi was driving a farm couple to their vehicle, and they told him it was parked by a Zimmatic pivot sign. Along Flag Road that year, there were 12 Zimmatic pivot signs, and they didn’t know which one they had parked beside.

Respecting each other

The show has changed so much, according to Schimmer and Wilhelmi, over the years — not only the tremendous infrastructure improvements that went into the site five years ago, but also in how the show is organized.

AIN members each have a responsibility during the show. It might be in cattle-handling demonstrations, harvest demos or some other area where they are in charge. “We all have our designated area to work,” Knuth says, “but we all pitch in together where it is needed.”

“We respect each other’s expertise and area of responsibility,” Wilhelmi says. “We might help someone else in their area, if needed, but we respect their knowledge and leadership.”

The AIN board meets monthly throughout the year, helping to coordinate with Jungmann and the rest of the national Farm Progress show team. In July, they attend an annual safety and first responder meeting that helps coordinate the visitor safety and logistics aspects of operating such a large outdoor farm show. They also meet at the show site the Sunday night before HHD to help in preparations.

Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play for AIN, Wilhelmi says. Working together for the good of HHD throughout the year has helped bond members of the board into a cohesive family.

As AIN board members help make HHD a success each year, the activities they assist with are not always evident to visitors because they are often behind the scenes. However, the group continues on their task of growing and improving HHD.

You might run into some of the AIN members at this year’s show and not even know it. Get all the details on this year’s HHD at

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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