By John Trumbo for TCAJOB
Nearly 2,000 people, not including vendors, flocked to Pasco’s TRAC to see big boys with their big toy tractors, sprayers and trucks Jan. 8-9 at the Mid-Columbia REAL Ag Show. The event, which has helped kick off each new year for more than two decades, had 112 vendors and about 1,000 people each day, based on the count of free bags of popcorn donated by main sponsor Les Schwab Tires.
“I’ve been here many times, many years,” said Jochen Engelke of Basin City, who grows sweet cherries and does custom farming. “It’s evolved and has become a social event. And it raises awareness of what’s out there.”
The ag show filled the exhibit hall and the arena at TRAC, with vendor booths packing the hall, and the dirt-floored arena providing parking space for massive farm equipment that couldn’t be squeezed in among the vendors.
The view from atop the plush cab of the 14-foot-high Miller 5365 sprayer showed a field of vendors and visitors, ripe for harvest in the hall. Products and services available ranged from advise about crop financing and insurance, to specialized equipment for the field and shop, irrigation technology, ag education and soil science.
“There’s so much diversity now, so much science — the universities, financial and insurance information,” Engelke said. “There is so much automation now, guidance systems, GPS, field mapping, infrared monitoring. Everything is so integrated now.”
Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, said the REAL Ag Show has become a main event for agribusiness in the Mid-Columbia.
“People like to come to see the big equipment, to kick the tires on the John Deeres and a $400,000 machine like a Miller sprayer,” he said.
The show offers helpful information, new products and seminars, which are well attended. But one of the biggest attractions are the pesticide certification courses that are offered at low cost in Spanish and English. This year, about 200 people took the four-hour training, with more than half taking the class in Spanish, Hastings said.
Hastings said attendance at the show this year was ahead of 2012.
His father, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, was the luncheon speaker. The congressman spoke about the importance of the Farm Bureau, how the Endangered Species Act affects agriculture, the role of the Columbia Basin Project that provides water essential for the region’s growers, and the country’s ag bill.
The congressman also shared his concerns about the national debt and the economic threat posed by excessive national spending.
Colin Hastings said those who attend the REAL Ag show discover farming is for more than just farmers and laborers.
“They are just the bookends,” Hastings said. “There is so much in between. Things like integrated pest management, testing, regulation and the environment.”
While many vendors, like Oxarc, RDO and Oxbo, the Miller distributor from Pasco, have been participating in REAL Ag for years. This was the first REAL Ag expo that Scott Miller of Byo Gon Products has attended.
Miller said the show was the right place to introduce his product – a biologically-sbased way to enhance soils that are loaded with too many chemicals, specifically salts and excess ions.
“Ag is very dependent on nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. But growing isn’t all chemistry. There is biology, too. You need both,” he said, explaining that growers who’ve depended on chemicals need bugs in the soil to convert the chemicals into what will be nutritious to the plants.
“There needs to be a paradigm shift,” Miller said.
As informative as the REAL Ag show is, Engelke said he likes to come every year just to show his support for TRAC.
“This is why we have TRAC and I want to make sure we keep it,” he said.
Back at the Oxbo booth where the Miller sprayer stands like a giant mechanical insect propped up on man-sized tires, product representative Brad Bonny admits mechanization is expensive, but it helps farmers work more land, more efficiently.
A farmer spending 10 to 12 hours a day in the Miller 5365 can cover thousands of acres with those two extendable spray booms that span up to 120 feet and can be adjusted from 6 feet high to just a foot off the ground. Large-scale farming with such equipment can be profitable enough to justify the costs every five to six years, Bonny said.