Worried farmers still flock to Tulare Ag Expo, but stay frugal

TULARE -- Money is always on the minds of farmers.

At the World Ag Expo, which opened Tuesday, it was practically the only topic of conversation.

A statewide drought, collapsing milk prices and tightening lending requirements are hurting California farmers large and small. More than 1,600 exhibitors at the event are aware of the challenges, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to attend what is considered the largest event of its kind in the nation, with about 100,000 visitors.

"This is not like it used to be," said Craig Latham, who sells Kioti tractors. "People are definitely shopping around a lot more."

Ningpia Her, a Fresno vegetable grower, said just about all his costs have increased. "Chemicals have gone up and the wholesalers are not buying as much, so it makes it harder for us," he said.

Her was shopping for equipment to till the soil and plant seeds. And he, too, said he expects to shop around for the best value.

"I want to make sure that what I buy will meet my needs and will last a long time," Her said.

Ron Blessing understands that mentality. As manager of technical support for Case IH equipment, Blessing's company is one of the largest vendors at the show.

Case showcases 12-row combines with a sticker price of $300,000.

"We know that we are not going to increase our sales 67 percent like we have in the last two years," Blessing said. "But that does not mean we stop coming out to events like this."

Andi Branstetter of Neogen Corp. of Kentucky, a manufacturer of veterinary diagnostic products, said dairy farmers are going back to basics. Some are taking on more of the routine maintenance of their cows instead of hiring someone else to do the work.

"Farmers are doing away with the luxuries," Branstetter said.