TULARE — It never failed. If you stopped a farmer and asked directly how he had fared these last five years, he was all too willing to talk economic depression and how it hadn't been this bad since the '30s, when at least the entire country was suffering.
But if you just wanted to talk about Agri-Action '85, maybe the world's largest farm equipment show, and why the farmer had come, where he was from and what impressed him here--well, that was different altogether. That was a grin and a laugh. Why does any kid like to visit a toy store? Why are there people who never miss a car show? Why spend a lazy afternoon window-shopping on Rodeo Drive when your budget is so tight that even parking in Beverly Hills is a splurge?
The 103,000 who attended the 18th annual California Farm Equipment Show and International Exposition last week in this small agricultural community between Fresno and Bakersfield came to drool, to run their hands over shiny new tractors and shake their heads incredulously at all that these newest of the new wonder machines could do.
They came to listen to the spiels: how baking soda in cow feed will increase milk production; how use of UltraSeal's tire life extender would mean better fuel mileage, cooler-running tires and longer tire life besides protecting against most flats and blowouts; how Anco rubber bands offer superior strength and stretch.
They came to collect literature on everything from the Versaladder Type I (heavy-duty industrial)--regularly selling for $233 but as a show special, we'll let you have it for $149.95--to Holman Design truck scales, the single-animal scale selling for $2,900 plus calibration. They grabbed up the freebies: a strip of Dura-Tape, a drip irrigation hose for row crops; a bumper sticker asking "Have You Hugged Your Heifer Today?," offered by Arm & Hammer Feed Grade Sodium Bicarbonate; and from at least one out of every five exhibitors, a plastic tote bag with the firm's name imprinted on it.
Some came to see each other, to visit and devour Italian sausage sandwiches at the Sons of Italy booth or linguica sandwiches at the booth run by the UPPEC, a Portuguese society, or shout friendly barbs at those pillars of the local Armenian community barbecuing shish kebab at the Triple X booth.
Many dropped in at the seminars, talks by specialists on such topics as dairy farming, nutrition, cash management, stress management, genetic engineering and agricultural economics sponsored by such organizations as the Tulare County Farm Bureau, University of California Co-Op Extension, Bank of America, California Women for Agriculture.
Finally, people came to see things they'd never seen before.
A Three-Day Carnival
The California Farm Equipment Show is best described as a three-day carnival, complete with hot-air balloons, blimps, brightly striped tents and fast-talking hawkers--but with no games or wild rides. Instead, filling the 80 fenced acres were 800-plus exhibitors pushing everything a farmer--of any kind--could need or dream of.
As for city types, well, they had to ask if they were to learn that this bizarre flying saucer on a crane was a Tol Tree Topper hedger, useful for trimming citrus trees (depending on size of the device, $61,000 to $125,000). Or that Teratorn Aircraft's motorized kite (as described by a local farm reporter) was in reality a crop duster selling for $4,595 for the ultra-light version and $6,895 for the Tierra II.
The Tulare show's organizers remain conservative about its size, content to put it among the largest farm shows in North America. Aside from a full-time paid staff of four, the show is nonprofit and run entirely by about 200 volunteers. This year's chairman was local cotton grower Dean Mahan. Proceeds from the $3 admission and exhibit space rentals are recycled each year into improving exhibit conditions and the farm show grounds, a 155-acre former alfalfa field, which the show's board of directors leased as a permanent site in 1982 after outgrowing the Tulare County Fairgrounds.
A Diverse Crowd
There's no modesty, however, about this being the world's most diversified farm show. It's inevitable, said show manager Sharon Saltzman, what with everything from strawberries to barley, cattle to zucchini, grown in California and, particularly, in the San Joaquin Valley.
"That's why this show attracts equipment, products and services that people would never see otherwise," she said. It's also why the crowd is so diverse: last year's 101,000 visitors came from 34 states and 30 foreign countries.
The crowd: some were small farmers, others large. Some were cattlemen; others dairymen. Many weren't even farmers, but were in agriculture-related fields.
They arrived in trailers and trucks, Toyota vans, Ford station wagons and 20-year-old Chevies. They were lining up even before the gates opened at 9, marveling at the great weather--though rain during past shows had deterred surprisingly few--and how well-organized the parking was.