Russ Johnson makes it his business to know where the fish are biting. So when the Seattle owner of a sport fishing expedition company heard about a Spokane convention for farmers, he sailed right over to see if he could hook a few customers.
“We’ve heard reports that this has been a strong year for many growers,” said Johnson, whose company, Royal Journeys, will have a booth at today’s opening of the Pacific Northwest Farm Forum and Ag Expo. “So we anticipate it will be a good year for us.”
Johnson is one of a record 330 exhibitors who paid $550 to lock in a booth at the Inland Northwest’s largest farm show. The event is expected to draw more than 7,000 people to the Spokane Arena, Convention Center and Red Lion City Center during its three-day run.
Promoters hope the event will give exhibitors what they seek most: farmers with money.
By most accounts, it should. With the exception of the beef and potato industries, growers in 1996 fared well. Wheat farmers, in particular, enjoyed the highest average price in history, increasing the chance that they will come to the expo looking to retool, upgrade and stock up on equipment, supplies and recreation.
“They come first to look for combines, but if they have any (money) left over, we’d like them to take a look at us,” said Mark Henderson, owner of Spokane’s three Pool World outlets.
While most farm activity occurs outside the city limits, the economic impact of Inland Northwest agricultural business is considerable.
Wheat farmers generate $700 million a year in revenue from their crop; apple growers $1 billion and dairy farmers another $680 million. Many of these growers buy supplies, chemicals, vehicles and other equipment from Spokane dealers.
Oregon State University ag economist Bart Eleveld predicts that Northwest farm equipment sales should rise 3 percent to 5 percent in 1997, down slightly from a hefty 6 percent gain in 1996.
But how much farmers spend at Ag Expo will depend largely on their feeling about the future, said Dennis Fiess, manager of the Spokane Ag Bureau, which runs Ag Expo. In January 1991, when a U.S.-led force attacked Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, “Ag Expo became a morgue,” Fiess said.
Janet Barber, secretary treasurer of Barber Engineering Co., a Spokane manufacturer of dry fertilizer applicators which has a booth at the trade show, said the new state ban on grass field burning may hurt her sales. Some of her customers will be forced to switch to alternative crops, she said, which may be less profitable and require less use of fertilizer equipment.
Economist Larry Makus said the big buyers will be balanced by many farmers who are still recovering from poor crops and low prices in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
The University of Idaho professor predicted that wheat prices for the 1997 harvest likely will be down by 50 cents per bushel or more.
“There are many still smarting from the mid-80s and they don’t want to put themselves in that position again” by taking on large debts, he said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AG EXPO SCHEDULE HIGHLIGHTS The Pacific Northwest Farm Forum and Ag Expo will offer 100 seminars and 300 exhibitors when the threeday opens today at the Spokane Arena and Convention Center. The trade show is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today and Wednesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday. Farm Forum speakers begin at 9 a.m. Cost: $8 adults for Ag Expo, $8 for Farm Forum; $5 youths, 12-18, both shows. Children under 11 are free to both. Passes are good for three days. Alternative livestock and welding demonstrations are located at Spokane Arena; Farm Forum seminars and workshops in the Spokane Ag Trade Center. Other key events include: Today: American Farm Bureau Federation president Dean Kleckner speaks at 10 a.m. at the Red Lion City Center. Wednesday: Creighton University meteorologist Art Douglas speaks at 10 a.m., Red Lion. Thursday: Jay Penick, president of Northwest Farm Credit Services, speaks at 9:30 a.m. at the Spokane Ag Trade Center Theater. Ray Goodner, portfolio manager of IDS Selective Fund and IDS Global Bond Fund, speaks at 11:45 a.m. to the Annual Agri-Business Luncheon in the WestCoast Ridpath Hotel. Cost: $10.