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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Ag Expo going virtual for both exhibits and speakers

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 20, 2021

Greg Bingaman wipes down the giant wheels on a sprayer truck at the 2019 Spokane Ag Expo. The pandemic will force organizers to webinars and Zoom meetings for the 2021 show next month.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIew)
Greg Bingaman wipes down the giant wheels on a sprayer truck at the 2019 Spokane Ag Expo. The pandemic will force organizers to webinars and Zoom meetings for the 2021 show next month. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIew)
By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

While organizers of the Spokane Ag Expo and Farm Forum are plowing ahead with this year’s show, both exhibitors and guests will have to display and follow along on a computer.

The show, which has run nonstop since 1978, will be held Feb. 23-25 through a series of webinars and live Zoom meetings instead of the major in-person gatherings at the Spokane Convention Center, show director Melisa Paul said.

“Our main mission is to promote jobs and investment in agriculture and agribusiness professions,” Paul said. “We felt we needed to stay true to that mission. By late summer or early fall, we saw there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel for an in-person show. So, we are hosting a virtual conference.”

The event will again feature Art Douglas, aka The Weatherman, who is a Creighton University professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences. He’s been giving weather predictions to Eastern Washington farmers for three decades.

The show also will include the annual economic forecast by Randy Fortenbery, an agriculture economist at Washington State University. In 2019, Fortenbery accurately predicted area farmers would struggle as a result of unstable markets brought on by then-President Donald Trump’s trade wars.

Paul said another important facet of the show is that it provides a vehicle for farmers to update their pesticide certification courses, which need to be renewed every couple of years so they can maintain licenses to use certain pesticides.

“The laws and regulations are always changing,” Paul said. “It’s something that they have to continually stay ahead of. We will be offering those sessions live every day of the show.”

Exhibitors, who typically rent stalls to sell everything from hobby tractors to massive combines, must register online to take part in a virtual directory.

“They can upload specials and content and host their own private events,” Paul said. “They can still gain access to those clients, which we can’t do in-person anymore.”

The exhibitors, who may register up to a week prior to the show, can have their content available during the show and the rest of the year.

While the nonprofit show had charged $15 to attend, the virtual conference will be free.

“Some (exhibitors) have really embraced the new format,” she said. “Some believe this format will work better for them.”

But not all exhibitors like the idea, she said. Paul noted the show will have a combination of webinars that can be accessed anytime during the show’s three days and other live shows on Zoom that must be viewed in real time.

“For some people, it’s not their deal,” Paul said of the virtual show. “Agriculture is one of those businesses where deals are done face-to-face. And, some clients want to wait for 2022.

“That’s great. We will be there for them.”

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