TULARE — A robust crowd, good weather and an improved farm economy helped kick off the 46th annual World Ag Expo on Tuesday at the International Agri-Center.
The expo is the largest farm equipment and technology show of its kind, drawing more than 100,000 visitors during its three-day run.
Expo spokeswoman Liza Teixeira said Tuesday's crowd jammed the grounds early. "It looked like a very good crowd," she said. "By 10 a.m., the south parking looked full."
Among those visiting was a Vermont couple who operate a 600-cow dairy.
Jake and Alice Gosliga came to check out the many dairy vendors and farm equipment.
The couple was immediately overwhelmed by the size of the event. The expo's 1,500 vendors are spread out over more than 2.6 million square feet.
"This is immense," said Jake Gosliga. "But if you are looking for farm equipment, this is the place that has everything."
Visitors at this year's expo were interested in everything from hulking tractors to automated payroll systems. A robust agriculture economy has given some farmers money to spend, especially nut-crop growers, grape growers and some row-crop farmers from the Midwest.
Devin Stout, owner of the Visalia-based Stout Built, has seen a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in business in 2012 over the previous year for his trellis system for vineyards. The system allows for easier management of the grape vines and improved production.
"As grape prices go up, we are seeing a lot more interest in farmers over new systems for growing grapes," Stout said. "And it isn't just from California farmers. We have interest all the way from Peru."
Advancements in technology have helped farmers do more with wireless technology.
Udi Sosnik of PET Tiger, a Fresno-based technology company, has developed a paperless system that will automatically track how much a worker is harvesting so he or she is paid the right amount. Using bar codes and a scanner, the system uploads the information and records the employee's productivity.
It also gives the grower real-time information about how much is being harvested.
Trade shows like the expo have helped Sosnik increase his exposure and helped grow his business. He estimates that his sales have increased more than 50 percent in 2012 over 2011.
Other expo visitors had bigger things on their mind. Several farmers were admiring the shiny new red tractors at the Case IH booth. The company brought many of its new models to the expo, including a gargantuan Axial-Flow Combine a 20-foot-high piece of equipment that harvests grain crops with ease. The front wheels are on a track, similar to a tank, allowing it to move smoothly over wet ground.
Matt Molland, livestock production specialist with Case, said the tractor comes with a harvesting attachment that is 46 feet wide.
"We decided not to put that on. It was just a little too big," Molland said.
The inside of the tractor's cab is well-appointed with leather seats, air conditioning and global positioning system technology.
"You just have to program it and go," Molland said. "All the driver has to do is control the speed."
The tractor sells for $400,000-plus. Even at that price, Molland said, there is no shortage of buyers.
"The ag economy has been strong over the last couple of years, and we see it in our sales," Molland said.