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By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

From February 9th to 11th, exhibitors from all over the country came together through the World Ag Expo to share their knowledge and experience about agriculture with the world. Hosted each year at the International Agri-Center located in Tulare, the expo is the largest annual agriculture exposition in the world! This year attendance reached 1,400 exhibitors and upwards of 100,000 attendees, and they continue to grow each year. However, the expo was not always as large as it is now.

The World Ag Expo started in 1968 and was originally called The California Field and Row Crop Equipment Show. Starting out, attendance was roughly 150 exhibitors and 28,000 attendees, and focused mainly on presenting large field equipment. After the success of that first year, they changed its name to The California Farm Equipment Show and started working to accommodate all fields of agriculture. Attendance from foreign exhibitors rose throughout the years, eventually earning the expo the name The World Ag Expo in 2001.

This year marks another milestone for the expo. COVID-19 still dictates much of our lives and the expo is no exception. It could have been an easy year to abandon all efforts and push it back to next year until everything can be in person once again. However, as Jennifer Fawkes, director of marketing for the International Agri-Center said, “Ag didn’t stop working, so we didn’t either.” Thanks to Ms. Fawkes and the rest of the Agri-Centers dedicated team, the show went on.

This year may be one of the most important years for the expo. Although it was held virtually, with some seminars as prerecorded YouTube videos and others as Zoom conferences meetings, the information provided is helping farmers and others in the ag field stay updated on topics like COVID-related safety, changes that have occurred or are projected to occur in ag economy and policy, and updates about international trade and industry outputs. As large changes seem to occur more and more frequently these days, it is crucial for farmers to stay up to date on this information. The expo has traditionally made information very accessible and luckily, this year’s seminars were able to communicate this necessary info.

This year’s exhibitors’ backgrounds range from students and researchers to heads of large companies and everywhere in between. Most exhibitors were California growers, ag-related project managers and business figure heads relaying information about their specific field, how it has changed and where it is going. Exhibits themselves discussed a wide spread of ideas. Main topics centered around California water supply, hemp production, as well as the state of the economy, fruit and nut industry updates, energy and sustainability, soil management practices and food insecurity in the Central Valley.

Although the in-person exhibits and demonstrations were cancelled this year, those behind the scenes worked diligently to make the experience comparable and the information available online. Ms. Fawkes relayed that this year’s switch to online buying and selling products still includes all the accommodations that one would have in person. “Match-making” practices that would formerly occur on the expo grounds – meant to match buyers to the perfect sellers – were traded for website programming techniques that would make contact info of certain buyers and sellers easily available based on information you provide about what you’re looking for.

Unfortunately, our present circumstances barred attendees from having the full effect that encompasses everything agriculture is by joining through screens. Even still, there was never a lack of passion. If there is one theme of the World Ag Expo, it is that our farmers and ag community members are extremely resilient and work tirelessly to bring food to the world. 

The success of the expo and the success that sits on the horizon is there because of the passionate people that help to bring it together. The exhibitor’s working tirelessly to provide products, information and their stories, the attendees’ willingness to listen and learn, and of course those behind the scenes working around the clock to bring such a collection together, all provide such a willingness and passion for agriculture that causes more than just heads to turn. They are the reason it succeeded during a worldwide pandemic and will be the reason for its success in the future. The willingness of those who live in the Central Valley are the reason the expo graduated from a small equipment show in Tulare to the worldwide event we know it to be today.