As you make your to-see list and select the one or two days you hope to attend World Ag Expo, Feb. 12-14 in Tulare, add an item to the list: Register.

Yep, World Ag Expo will require everyone who enters the show grounds to register and get a badge. You can do it now at www.worldagexpo.com or at the gates.

World Ag Expo officials have hired a widely recognized company to handle both online and at-gate registrations. No doubt everyone connected with the show believes all is in place for a smooth registration process, but when you are talking about computers; possible wet, cold conditions and people anxious to get inside, my suggestion is to register online now if you do not want to stand in a long, long line.

You have to pay the admission online when you register, but you get a discounted price. Plus, you will enter through a special fast pass gate at the show with the badge that will be mailed to you. You'll automatically be entered in the annual Dodge truck giveaway and get free admission to the West Coast National truck and tractor pulls in the evening.

After 40 years, why register attendees now? There is a good reason for finding out who attends the farm show.

Farm shows are expensive for organizers and exhibitors alike. It is difficult for exhibitors to put a dollar return value on the expenses of hauling machines, booths, people, literature and who knows what else to farm show after farm show. Exhibitors are demanding to know if the dollars are worth spending going to Tulare or any other farm show.

Some Tulare exhibitors say they sell merchandise and services directly related to a farm show. Others say they don't really sell much from a farm show; they just want to have a show presence for their existing customers. Others say there is no place like Tulare to generate sales leads.

I know from my 33 years of reporting on Western agriculture — farm shows move products and services. Maybe not immediately, but Tulare is definitely where an idea to buy is planted. I often ask farmers where they first saw a piece of equipment or an irrigation system or this or that. Countless times I have heard, “I saw it at the farm show.” Sometimes recently. Sometimes two or three shows back.

Random surveys create a profile of the average show attendee, but exhibitors want more. They are asking hard questions of show organizers about who exactly is coming through the gates.

Let's be honest about it. There are fewer farmers in business each year with ongoing industry consolidation. Therefore, it stands to reason fewer farmers are attending farm shows than 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Farm show attendance numbers mean very little any more. It is what the numbers represent that is important.

This is why World Ag Expo will be one of the first farm shows to ask everyone to register electronically, preferably before the show at www.worldagexpo.com or at the gates.

World Ag Expo organizers do not want to go to the expense and hassle of registering everyone. However, farming is forever changing and farm shows change. Look into the future in any business and adapting must be based on knowledge.

The electronic registration is bold and risky because anyone who has been at Tulare knows the 100,000 attendance figure most often associated with the show is certainly not entirely comprised of farmers.

Nevertheless, the core of the show is commercial agriculture, and show organizers fully understand that and do not want to detract from it. They want to get those companies who have long been Tulare supporters the information they seek.

For those of us who live in California, especially in the Central Valley, World Ag Expo or whatever the next name of it may be will always be “Tulare” or “The Farm Show.” If you are in farming, it is where you go during typical foggy, wet February days each year.

It is the highlight of the winter for the valley and California's agriculture. To keep it a vital part of the valley, go online and register now. Give the show and the exhibitors the information they deserve.