If a menacing grill and enough horsepower to relocate a small town wasn’t enough to sell buyers on a $380,000 tractor, salesman Tracy Holeman had one more whistle to show.
“It’s got a refrigerator that can also be a food warmer. It can keep your beer cold or your lunch warm, whichever you want,” Holeman said.
Sure enough, eight feet off the ground in the glassed-in cabin of the Cat Challenger 1050 tractor, there was a cooler only slightly smaller than a dormitory fridge. Starting Thursday, farmers and ranchers attending the Montana Agri-Trade Exposition would be seeing their reflections in the tractor’s buffed beige body, and, Holeman hoped, imagining themselves in the cockpit.
The Montana Agri-Trade Exposition, the largest trade show of its kind in Montana, kicks off Thursday and runs through Saturday. For many attendees, it’s more like a late winter rendezvous than a retail event. Farm and ranch families travel to MATE to escape the stir-craziness of rural winter, a good excuse to go to Billings and walk and gawk.
The show at MetraPark features more than 600 exhibits, including some at the Home Health Expo in the pavilion next door. There are health screenings and healthy living exhibits, at the Home Health Expo, exercise equipment and home decorating booths. And there are meat stick samples from butcher shop vendors.
The MATE show has been completely booked with vendors since last May, said Traci Marchwinski, event manager. MATE is run by the Northern International Livestock Expo.
Jennifer Noble, NILE general manager, said she expects farmers and ranchers to arrive with a good outlook on spring. Snowpack around the state should help crops off to a green start. Wheat prices are somewhat improved, and cattle prices are steady.
Spectators should come for the farm equipment, but stay for the chicks — at least that’s what Ed Chapman was hoping people would do. As his Shipton's Big R crew rearranged squeeze chutes in the annex of the Expo Center, a passel of baby chickens peeped away under heat lamps.
Chapman said the chicks would sell out of the pen for $2.99 each. They were white Leghorn and black Australorp chicks, good for laying eggs and making drumsticks. There were power tools on sale, also.
“We expect to sell a lot of DEWALT tools, not just to farmers and ranchers, but homeowners,” Chapman said.
Mark Dawson was putting out the literature on his Canadian-built Bale King hay processors. It's an eight-page brochure, but Dawson summed up the appeal of his equipment with brevity.
“In the wintertime, when you’re feeding cattle, you’re not doing it with a pitchfork. That’s the best I can tell you,” Dawson said. The bale processor loads itself and then chops the hay into one-inch bits.