World Ag Expo Celebrates a Half Century of Farming Diversity and Innovation
Cheers to 50 Years
By Jordan Venema
Photo courtesy of World Ag Expo
If you live in the Central Valley, and especially if you work in the food service or hospitality industries, you know when the World Ag Expo comes to town. For that one week every year, coffee shop lines get a longer and hotel lobbies get a little fuller.
This year, more than 100,000 people will walk through the gates of the International Agri-Center to attend the 50th World Ag Expo, which has been called the Disneyland of Agriculture. The Expo has become a must-attend event for world leaders in agriculture, but according to International Agri-Center’s CEO Jerry Sinfit, the event isn’t just for farmers.
“People used to think that a career in agriculture means you have to drive a tractor or dig a hole or irrigate or that’s it, but no. There’s so much more to agriculture. Now there are so many careers with new technology,” he says, adding that degrees in biology or computer engineering fall under the agricultural umbrella.
The latest technology is certainly the draw for dealers and buyers attending the World Ag Expo, but even locals can enjoy the fair-like exhibitions, food and displays. “There’s so much to do and so much to learn,” agrees Sinfit, and because this year is the Expo’s 50th anniversary, expect even more reason to celebrate: a fireworks show on Wednesday night and a parade of every tractor from the last 50 years.
The World Ag Expo has grown considerably since its first years in Tulare on the county fairgrounds.
“It began with 128 exhibitors and about 12,000 people showed up,” says Sinfit. “The story is that several guys with the chamber president went up to the Colusa ag show and they said, ‘Hey, we can do this in Tulare.’”
Over the course of 50 years, the show has undergone some name changes, from the California Farm Equipment Show to the California Farm Equipment Show and International Ag Exposition. They shortened the name to World Ag Expo in 2001, says Sinfit. “It was hard to get California Farm Equipment Show and International Ag Exposition out your mouth, let alone on a business card,” he says with a laugh.
That the World Ag Expo has continued to grow and establish itself as the foremost exposition of agricultural technology is not an accident. Much of the diversity of its exhibitions directly reflects the diversity of the Central Valley’s agricultural makeup.
“Within 100 square miles of the International Agri-Center,” says Sinfit, “there are over 100-plus different crops grown. So we are very diversified.” And diversity demands innovation, which is what draws the audience and exhibitors. “Probably the majority of our audience comes from west of the Mississippi, but we get folks from every state, and we also have foreign countries represented.”
Those attendees include foreign dignitaries with entourage in tow, and Ministers of Agriculture from countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, Korea and China.
“You don’t really know who’s coming until they show up,” Sinfit says, but the sight of dignitaries in their official dress or traditional clothing is a sight to see.
Though for all the diversity, between exhibitions and attendees, agriculture is a language that everybody can speak, says Sinfit. “Agriculture is such a close-knit family. I don’t care if you’re from Czechoslovakia or Tulare, Calif., we all kind of speak the same language, have the same work ethic, living in the earth.”
And that means the exposition isn’t just for the dignitaries and businessmen in agriculture – it’s for everybody. This year, exhibitors have volunteered to give tours to local schoolchildren, and Sinfit says it is still possible for schools to arrange tours with classes. “Exhibitors have said they’d like to talk to schoolkids and tell them why their product is important.”
The draw for attendees will fall between business, education and entertainment. “The massive tractors are a big draw for a lot of people,” says Sinfit, “and just to know a little bit more about agriculture and know what’s going on. Also, nothing compares to the food at the Ag Expo.”
With more than 40 different seminars over the course of the week, and the expectation of more than 100,000 attendees, Sinfit expects to stay busy. Sometimes, he admits, he’s just around to take photos. But he knows what he is missing.
“Growing up in Tulare, I’ve been going to this thing since high school,” says Sinfit, who has worked for the Agri-Center for 16 years, and 20 years before that as an exhibitor. So while he spends much of his time making sure everybody is having a good time, he can also joke that he looks forward to retiring. “That way I can enjoy it like everybody else,” he says with a laugh. •
World Ag Expo • February 14-16 • $15 general admission
International Agri-Center • 4500 South Laspina St., Tulare
Tuesday and Wednesday, 9am -5pm; Thursday 9am – 4pm
www.worldagexpo.com • (559) 688-1030