It is not the best of economic times to hold a farm show, but World Ag Expo will go on with its 42nd annual show Feb. 10-12, in Tulare, Calif.

There will be 1,600 exhibitors nestled in 2.6 million square feet of exhibit spaces hoping to see 100,000 people parade by and stop-and-shop for the latest in equipment, products and services for the world’s agricultural community.

“We are sold out of booth space,” says International Agri-Center General Manager Jerry Sinift.

That says a lot. The agricultural economy that six months ago many felt was somewhat isolated from the worldwide economic crisis has collapsed on many fronts.

Domestic and world markets for most of the major commodities produced in California have retreated like a turtle pulling its head inside its shell.

Prices for most California commodities from almonds to milk have fallen out of bed due to retreating markets. Almond prices are half what they were a year ago. Milk prices have fallen so far so fast; dairymen are in a state of shock. It is so bad; there is talk of including the nation’s dairy industry in a federal stimulus package that has cattle pleading no at the prospects of a massive government-backed sell-off of dairy animals into the beef market.

While the “Sold Out” banner is hanging from the World Ag Expo front door, Sinift admits World Ag Expo has felt the economic fallout.

WAE has had exhibitor cancellations — “a few more than usual,” but Sinift says, “we have been able to fill those slots from the waiting list.”

Sinift says many of the cancellations have come from smaller companies on the East Coast who have reined in budgets in the tight economy. No major exhibitors have cancelled.

“Many who cancelled this year have said they will be back in 2010” when many economists are predicting the turnaround to better times will start.

Sinift, a former exhibitor, believes despite the downturn in the ag economy, “there is no better time for exhibitors to put your best foot forward in offering farmers and dairymen products and services that will make them more efficient to get through these tough times.

“Farmers, dairymen and cattlemen will be looking for ways to be more efficient in these tight economic times,” he added.

Exhibitors like Alan Bishop, account manager for Monsanto, expect hard questions from grower customers during the three-day Expo run.

“I expect to be fielding questions about rising input prices. Farmers are pretty price conscious and pretty demanding about product performance, especially when product prices are increasing. This situation gives us the chance to explain why it’s still worth investing in inputs, especially non-discretionary ones, even if they cost more than they may have last year.”

Bishop likes the education seminars held in conjunction with the World Ag Expo. For one thing, they help attract growers to the show. For another, they can help producers keep up to date on the latest technology.

“They can be a great way for farmers to gain information and learn,” he says. “These seminars are especially valuable if growers are presenting the information, because they are more credible to other growers.”

Bruce Shannon, sales manger for Nickel Iron Works and T.G. Schneider Co., Shafter, Calif., says, “The product lines of both our companies enjoyed a really good 2008, and we expect that to continue through 2009.”

However, strong sales do not come easy. When buying equipment these days, farmers are emphasizing increased efficiency. “They want to know how a particular tool is going to enhance their operation,” Shannon says. “How will it make them more profitable?”

Sinift echoed Shannon’s sentiments about most suppliers having a good 2008.

As a follow-up to a good season, “There are many major announcements scheduled for World Ag Expo this year. We are thinking the timing is perfect for those kinds of activities,” he added.

Sinift is looking for a big crowd.

“Gas prices are half what they were last year. We are so confident that there will be a larger crowd, we have added additional parking spaces,” he said.

The World Ag Expo orange-jacketed army of 1,200 volunteers is ready for big turnouts of exhibitors and visitors.

California is going into its third straight drought year, prompting Sinift to add one final wish for 2009 World Ag Expo — “rain all 3 days. We are prepared for rain, and we can certainly use it in California.”

Several years ago, one of the most heartening sights during the show was a panoramic Expo background of a snow-capped Sierra Nevada. A view like that again would only lift the spirits of the World Ag Expo crowd.

email: hcline@farmpress.com