Isolated farmers, ranchers reconnect at trade show

2013-02-15T18:30:00Z 2014-08-25T16:52:08Z Isolated farmers, ranchers reconnect at trade showBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

Glasgow is a small town, and its ranching communities are awfully spread out. 

That's one of the reasons that broker Jarrell Schock likes coming to MATE, the three-day Montana Agri-Trade Exposition and Home and Health Expo at MetraPark in Billings each year. He gets to see his neighbors. 

Schock works for Missouri River Realty. He and his co-workers were staffing a booth on Friday advertising the ranch and farmlands the company is offering for sale. 

They operate out of the Glasgow/Wolf Point area and set up a booth at the MATE each year mostly to connect with people from the Glasgow/Wolf Point area who attend the trade show each year — many of them friends and neighbors. 

"They're here, so we are, too," Schock said.

For a lot of people attending, MATE can be a reunion of sorts. Kelsy Robinson and Natasha Leligdowicz are FFA students from Custer and attended the MATE show to sell raffle tickets for a group fundraiser. 

"I see my grandpa," Leligdowicz said. 

He's a rancher from Roberts and every year, Leligdowicz manages to run into him at the show. 

"Being a local farm person you see all the people coming in and saying, 'Hey! Do I know you?'" Robinson said with a laugh. 

It's part of the reason they always get a good response to their raffle ticket sales. Many of the attendees were FFA kids at one point and the vendors, like Robinson and Leligdowicz, are at the MATE every year.

They recognize faces and offer to buy a ticket or two.  

"The people here are really nice," Robinson said. 

The range of vendors is surprisingly wide and diverse for a farm and ranch implement trade show. Everyone — from Accelerated Genetics to ExxonMobil to Western Ranch Supply to Montana Livestock to Alternative Energy Solutions — sets up their booths and hopes for a sale.

And the sales come.

Kathy Sweley and her husband ranch in the Sidney area. Last year, they spent thousands of dollars on farm equipment they bought from a display on the Metra floor.

"You find the best, the newest, the latest," she said.

The Sweleys don't buy equipment every year, she said. But they always attend to see the latest updates and improvements for large-acre ranching and farming.

Justin Mills, general manager of the trade show, said as farm equipment gets bigger and more efficient, farmers can manage larger swaths of land. 

It's a two-edged sword, he said. The mid-sized guys are getting squeezed out, either leasing out their land or selling it altogether to families or companies that can afford to expand. 

"With a certain size tractor you can do more," he said. 

But those tractors cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — making it easier for landowners to farm more and increase their profits. But only if they have the land and can afford to upgrade their equipment in the first place. 

But some farmers manage to do it. 

"The ag economy right now is good," he said. "But our cost to do business is up a lot, too."

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