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Rise in small farms is changing Ag Expo’s role

Dennis Solbrack, of Spokane’s Arrow Machinery, prepares John Deere equipment Monday for the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum in the Group Health Pavilion of the Spokane Convention Center. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
Dennis Solbrack, of Spokane’s Arrow Machinery, prepares John Deere equipment Monday for the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum in the Group Health Pavilion of the Spokane Convention Center. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

Spray. Dab. Wipe, wipe. With the type of gentle cleaning normally reserved for rebuilt cars of yesteryear, Mark Prewett swiped away every grain of grit.

His made the yellow paint gleam. The new tires were black as newspaper ink.

All this for a hay baler that some farmer will hook to a tractor and drag across a dusty field.

Welcome to Spokane Ag Expo, the region’s largest farm equipment show with about 240 vendors and expected draw of more than 5,000 people.

Prewett, who works for Pella, Idaho–based equipment manufacturer Vermeer Inc., said the show this week in the Spokane Convention Center is an important way to reach small-farm customers.

While the farm show is best known for its impressive display of half-million-dollar combines, giant crop sprayers, and powerful new tractors, it is becoming equally known as a place where the growing number of small-acreage farmers can check out small tractors and learn how to control noxious weeds, raise small numbers of livestock or manage stands of pine trees.

“There’s no doubt we intend to talk to lots of people with smaller farms,” said Lance Repp, with Western States Equipment Co., the region’s big Caterpillar dealership.

Chris Flesher, territory sales manager for Case IH Agriculture, said the expo is a popular tradition for the company, which brings its huge combines mostly for show rather than in anticipation of heavy sales of the equipment.

While the big equipment dealers will always cater to the region’s large wheat and vegetable farms, there’s no escaping the changing face of Northwest agriculture.

The federal 2007 Census of Agriculture report released last year showed the loss of 1,800 wheat farms in Washington between 1997 and 2007. That’s a 40 percent drop that surprised many in the industry because of its severity.

Yet the state is gaining in the number of small farms – small acreage set-ups that serve as a lifestyle and a secondary income source for families.

“There’s no question we’re trying to reach both of these groups,” said Myrna O’Leary, the show manager for Spokane Ag Expo.

The show also features a humanitarian effort this year, O’Leary said.

Ag Expo and Western States Equipment Co. are collecting food to fill the bed of a Caterpillar 730 dump truck – a massive machine able to haul 75,000 pounds.

Western States plans to donate the food to the Second Harvest Food Bank, a food warehouse that works with communities to feed people, especially during a tough economy and heavy job losses.



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