With a crew that numbers over 450, the annual Farm Tour — a partnership between CMA Entertainer of the Year nominee Luke Bryan and the Bayer Corporation — qualifies as quite a production within itself. The six-show tour is quite the endeavor, and one that takes much time to prepare for, says the Capitol Nashville recording artist.
“The sites get prepped weeks in advance, but when we roll in — we are doing three shows a week, on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,” he says of the tour, which recently wrapped up. “We go in, and build the infrastructure all in one day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s something that we truly enjoy.”
The “sites” that Bryan speaks of are people’s actual farms — set in the heartland of America. The Farm Tour has been going on since 2009, and has been situated largely in the southeast, but this year, the singer says things were a little bit different.
“We spread it out through the years. We started out in the southeast, and this year, we worked our way to the Midwest,” he stated of the six-date run, which began in Lincoln, NE on Sept. 8, and wound up in Centralia, MO earlier this month. What makes a farm an ideal setting for the Farm Tour? “The main thing we look for is the accessibility for the fans, and how easy it is for them to get in and out. We also ask, ‘If it rains, are we going to have 3,000 vehicles bogged down in the mud?’ There’s a lot of criteria that we go through to try to make it go off without a hitch.”
Bryan says he’s amazed at the turnout and reception he gets from the yearly event. This year, attendance for the six shows was a combined 80,000 — an average showing of over thirteen thousand per night. “We’ve done it for many years — it’s a lot of work, but it’s something that I believe in, that tugs at my heart to do,” he explains. “Obviously, all of our tour sponsors have come on board, and certainly Bayer. They have been a part of the Farm Tour since the beginning. It’s an amazing fan experience.”
For Bayer’s part in the Farm Tour, Ray Kerins, senior vice president of corporate affairs, says that they are honored to be working alongside of Bryan on the project. After all, the agricultural industry is an important part of their company’s profile, with a wide variety of products in the fields of health care and agriculture and their areas of application. “Since day one, this partnership has grown year after year,” Kerins says. “It’s been a great relationship, and we’re really proud of what we have built together.”
For Bryan fans who have never witnessed the Farm Tour experience, Kerins admits it’s hard to put into mere words. “There’s no way that I can describe the experience. We’ve used still stills and video both to try to show folks how the Farm Tour is, but until you’ve been there in person, it’s hard to describe. We tell folks ‘Picture this. We roll in during the morning at about sunrise. You’re rolling into cow pasture or a corn field, and the sun is about to come up. There’s a fog or a haze rolling across the field, and 12 hours later, there’s 20,000 people in that field.'”
One thing that was apparent to Kerins and Bayer is that Bryan is committed to the cause — icluding the promotion #HeresToTheFarmer, a mission that that Bryan and Bayer hope will send a million meals to those who are less fortunate — because he not only understands it, but he has lived it.
“We came into it about three years ago, and one of the reasons that drew us to it was Luke’s commitment to recognizing the American farmer,” he recalls. “He grew up on a farm down in Georgia, and his dad is a peanut farmer. His commitment to the whole concept of the Farm Tour was about raising awareness of the American farmer. With a large agricultural division inside of our company, we had a similar want and need, and had a program already in place that was called Thankful For Ag. The purpose behind it was to raise an awareness of what the American farmer is doing for us. We put the two programs together, and it became a winning combination.”
Kerins says he is touched by Bryan’s genuine love for the people on the farms throughout the regions where they play the shows. “That’s one of the reasons that we have put so much dedication into it,” he offers. “We use the word celebration, but the whole idea of the Farm Tour is a way to thank the farmers for what they are doing. As someone who grew up on a farm, he gets it personally. He knows the challenges that farmers face in this country. Whether it be the cyclical nature of crops and how they grow, or regulations that are put on top of them, or it could be things like drought that mother nature just throws at us. Luke gets it and believes in it, which is why we are working with him.”
Bryan admits that the evening turns out to be one that he, Bayer, or some of fellow attendees will never forget. “Bayer and I get the farmers up on stage, and we donate a thousand dollars of Bayer product, and we give a scholarship to a student from an agricultural family,” he says. “Beyond that, we’ve teamed up with Bayer to do #HeresToTheFarmer, where if you do that, Bayer and I donate a meal to a hungry family. This year, our goal is to try to do a million meals. It’s grown over the years. We did 700,000 one year, and then 800,000 the next year, so everybody’s hashtags is feeding a hungry American family.”
The Farm Tour allows Bryan to pay tribute to his heritage. “My whole existence, and the reason that I’m in country music, was based on me being in an agricultural family,” said the singer. “It taught me everything I know about life, and my work ethic. It has shaped who I am. I took all those values, and I brought them to Nashville, and used that hard work to get my career off the ground. I still go back home and talk to my dad, and talk about how the business is going. It’s still very present, and very important in my life.”
What is it about the farming way of life that holds an appeal for the singer, who releases his sixth studio album, What Makes You Country, on Dec. 8? “I always loved the aspect of farming that at the end of the day, you could see what you had done that day. If you were working in a field, you started at one end of the field, and by the end of the day, you completed the job. The funny thing about the music business is that you could work for a year, and never know if you were going forward or backwards. It’s about putting in a good day’s work, and planting stuff, and watching it grow is pretty spiritual.”