TULARE — With great anticipation, the World Ag Expo in Tulare will open its doors today with a new crop of tractors, cost-saving technology and visitors from around the globe.
The Ag Expo, in its 46th year, is the biggest event of its kind in the nation, drawing an estimated 100,000 visitors during its three-day run.
The grounds of the International Agri-Center will be carpeted with 1,500 vendors offering everything from auto-steering tractors to sprinkler parts.
"The ag industry is alive and well and we have lots of people who are very interested in seeing the latest products and new technology," said Jerry Sinift, Agri-Center general manager. "We expect to have a very good year."
And it isn't just farmers who will benefit. The expo pours millions of dollars into the region's economy. In 2010, expo officials estimated the economic impact to the San Joaquin Valley was $600 million.
Restaurants, hotels, even hardware stores see a bump in sales.
"There is a lot of money being spent and it not just in Tulare County," said Paul Saldana, CEO of the Tulare County Economic Development Corp. "We see the effect of the expo in Kings, Kern and Fresno counties."
Some hotels and motels in Tulare fill up months ahead, forcing people to scramble for rooms in Fresno and Clovis.
"We were sold out last week," said Jay Virk, owner of the 54-room Comfort Suites in Clovis. Virk also owns the 85-room Marriott Fairfield Inn in Clovis, and that is nearly sold out.
Longtime expo vendor Gene Jacobsen, owner of Jacobsen Trailers, is amazed by how much the event has grown. One of the event's original vendors, Jacobsen recalls the early years when vendors huddled together in their booths, playing cards and having a drink because the crowds were so light.
"Now, it would take you two days to see the whole thing," Jacobsen said. "But we are not complaining. We do good business."
For many, the expo is part county fair, part trade show.
Along with climbing inside the cab of the latest cotton harvester, you can munch on a rib-eye steak sandwich or enjoy Dutch oven apple cobbler.
Wednesday night, Oliver North will be the guest speaker at the Ag Warriors benefit.
World Ag Expo
WHEN: Today and Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WHERE: International Agri-Center, just east of Highway 99 in Tulare
COST: $12 general admission at the gate. Children 6 and younger free.
PARKING: Free on the expo grounds, but free, off-site parking is encouraged. A park-and- ride shuttle is available.