Like many who visited the 1996 Ag Expo and Farm Forum, Don Lilley of Chewelah, Wash., came to scope out the toys - big red tractors, giant green harvesters and scaled down models in cardboard boxes.
“I want toys, but dad won’t get me any,” the seven-year-old son of dairyman Bill Lilley said Thursday as Ag Expo came to a close. “I know how to drive a tractor.”
Buoyed by huge crowds, Ag Expo exhibitors said they got good returns from the three-day gathering of an estimated 7,000 people in downtown Spokane.
As the largest agricultural trade show in the Inland Northwest, Ag Expo increasingly has become a way for area businesses to boost sales after the holidays.
With the lure of the new Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the number of exhibitors this year grew 25 percent from 220 to 276, said show manager Dennis Fiess. However, that meant increased competition for approximately the same number of people who attended in 1995.
“Traffic was a little better last year. We don’t sell much; we just get a lot of leads,” said Doug Nortell, a designer and representative for Industrial Systems and Fabrication Inc., a Spokane grain handling equipment supplier.
Hoping to attract non-farmers, Ag Expo promoters added several new displays such as the ostrich burger bar. At the same time, seminars on precision farming, value-added agriculture and other topics were presented to producers, encouraging more purchases.
“I was real impressed with the precision farming,” said Stevens County farmer Ed Talbott, clutching a bag stuffed with brochures and gifts from exhibitors. “It’s the coming thing.”
Some visitors such as Lilley said they came to look at the latest equipment and get ideas for improving their farm operations. Others brought cash for merchandise ranging from grapefruit to work boots.
“In three days I sold more boots than I do in a week,” said Nick Petrilli, owner of Nick’s Boots in Spokane. “I probably sold $4,000 to $5,000 in hand-made boots. I wish I could do this every month.”
Jim Howell Jr., president of St. John Hardware & Implement Co., said farmers were more positive this year because of higher crop prices and a good bank of moisture in the soil.
“I’ve got a lot of good leads,” he said, “and we’ve sold some stuff. Overall, it seems to be better.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo