Feb. 17 2012 06:04 AM

Economic reverberations took a toll on big outdoor equipment displays.

Mud, sun, warmth, cold, crowds, and fun were all part of the familiar mix at World Ag Expo last week in Tulare, Calif. But it's what was not there that was the show's biggest dairy story.

If 2009 was the year the dairy economy collapsed with a loud "thud!" for milk producers, 2012 is when its echo reverberated in the outdoor dairy equipment area, and it was just as loud.

When times were good, outdoor exhibits in the "dairy equipment village" next to the Dairy Center building were large, often elaborate, and sometimes extravagant. The philosophy seemed to be "bigger is better" and displays sometimes featured nearly complete small herringbone, parallel, and/or rotary parlors. Over-the-top was common and it made for a great sightseeing experience for producers.

This year was much different. Big was out. Belts were tightened. The equipment presented was smaller in both size and number, and some things were gone entirely. For example:
  • A major foreign-based manufacturer of rotary parlors was not at the show at all.
  • Nor was a leading dairy buildings contractor that gave up its permanent display structure.
  • The huge permanent display of a leading global manufacturer of milking equipment was about two-thirds smaller than in previous years.
  • One of the seven roofed exhibit structures in the outdoor exhibit area was used for storage this year. Another was used for presentations by a local utility company.
All were clearly the result of the dairy industry's financial collapse of 2009, the slow recovery that continues to hamstring producers' ability to make big purchases, and the tough choices equipment manufacturers have to make about budgets for shows. Don't be surprised if this downsized approach to big exhibits continues for a while.