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Large Canadian presence at Big Iron

The 32nd Big Iron farm equipment and services show here is like a huge handshake between U.S. and Canadian farmers and equipment manufacturers that do business across the 49th parallel.

More than a dozen Manitoba- and Saskatchewan-based companies were exhibiting at the annual event, which typically marks the last of the summer shows in the region. It features more than 800 exhibitors, numerous in-field demonstrations, indoor and outdoor and displays.

Crowds at the Sept. 11-13 event were bigger than some exhibitors expected, considering soybean and even corn harvest was rolling in much of the region. The show has free admission, but sponsors estimate that it draws some 80,000 show-goers, with spouse events, seminars and an international trade program that draws more than 100 people from 11 countries. This year’s show offered such attractions as a driverless tractor being developed by Autonomous Tractor Corp. The 400-horsepower machine made an appearance but skipped the show’s trademark in-field demonstrations.

Meridian Manufacturing of Winkler, Man., famous for its hopper-bottom grain bins, seed tenders, was part of the Canadian contingent. Gerald Unrau, the Dakotas’ regional sales manager, noted the company recently has teamed with Sakundiak Equipment of Saskatchewan on an auger line. Meridian came out with a conveyor this year and manufactures aeration systems.

“This is the biggest outdoor show we do in North Dakota,” Unrau says. “We do one outdoor one in South Dakota, and hit one in Minot in the winter that has a show similar to Ag Days in Brandon, Man.”

Meridian sells its products through dealer networks, so it has several dealers representing its products at the show. It has 10 dealers in North Dakota, and about six each in Minnesota and South Dakota. It has 300 employees at Winkler and two more manufacturing plants in Alberta and one in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Good crops in northern U.S.

Big Iron typically falls between the small grains and corn and beans. “It’s a little different this year because crops are a little early. It’s usually a good show for us, because it has a lot of people,” Unrau says. The Big Iron crowd is unusual in that it offers growers of a large number of crops — beets, to small grains to beans and corn. “Some of the shows farther south, there aren’t as many crops grown,” he says. In the Dakotas this year the farm economy has been strong, except in southern South Dakota, where drought has had its effect.

“It’s been good, and out in the west (in North Dakota) guys got a crop in, where some only got 10 per cent seeded last year,” Unrau says. “They had a lot of winter wheat out in that area this year. The crop did well.”

Versatile shows off combine

Versatile, Inc., a Winnipeg-based powerhouse, for the first time in the United States introduced its new tractors with extra-large tractor cab and visibility. There was great curiosity for its new combine, made for the company by Rostelmash, Inc., its Russian majority shareholder since late 2007.

The combine is compact for 36,000 pounds. The design has been available in Russia for several years and has been on test in North America in the past year, with corn, rice and cereal grains. The Model 490 (horsepower) model, uses Cummins engines. The machines offer increased creature comforts than the machines for the Russian market. The new combines are different because the concave rotates clockwise and the rotor rotates clockwise, for 360-degree threshing and separation.

Cal Wick, Versatile’s territory manager for the Dakotas, said the goal is to recast Versatile as full-line dealer. Versatile sells its tractors in 30 locations in North Dakota, for example, but is working on signing dealers to handle the combines. Wick said the sticker price on a combine like this lists at about $379,000, not including the header.

Colby Sproat, Kipling, Sask., working for Seed Hawk Inc., of Langbank, Sask., said he was pleasantly surprised with the turnout at the show, despite its conflict with an early harvest. “If we were holding this in Saskatchewan right now, I don’t know if we’d have much of a turnout at all,” he said.

Not all of the Canucks at the show were selling the big stuff.

Jake Friesen, Winkler, Man., owns HeatMaster, which manufactures wood, coal and biomass heating systems. “What I find is, this is much closer for Manitoba than the show in Regina, Sask., which has its show in June,” Friesen says. Manitobans coming south of the border, with the strong Canadian dollar, also have some recreation reasons to do business here, but a stronger Canadian dollar has shrunk profit margins.

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