Catch you in Billings, MATE, at the Montana Agri-Trade Exposition | TSLN.com

Catch you in Billings, MATE, at the Montana Agri-Trade Exposition

Farmers, ranchers, and more line up to enter the MATE Theater, where they may garner information from presenters from Montana State University Extension on varying topics. Photos courtesy the MATE

For more than four decades, the Montana Agri-Trade Exposition (MATE) has drawn Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming ranchers and farmers to Billings to experience the latest in agriculture technology, explore 600 vendor booths, and garner education through the MATE theater. Spanning Thursday Feb. 15 to Saturday, Feb. 17, the MATE will once again spread through the grounds and buildings at MetraPark.

The Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE) purchased the MATE six or seven years ago in order to further the mission of the NILE, said Jennifer Boka, the NILE's general Manager, which is promoting and supporting agriculture.

"There are over 440 vendors with 600 booths," Boka said. "All of the items you can find there are the most current technology. There is cattle-handling equipment, production ag from a grain grower's standpoint, everything on down to the smallest items like branding irons, everything that fits the need of area producers that is as up-to-date as possible. People are able to do all their commerce and education at once."

Free tickets are provided at First Interstate Bank locations in Billings and Hardin, as well as vendor locations. They may also be printed from the website http://www.themateshow.com. Tickets at the door are $7. A form on the back of tickets provides attendees the chance to enter to win a John Deere 2017 XUV 560 donated by John Deere Dealers and C&B Operations, a Sunshine Infrared Sauna Premium Sauna donated by Sunshine Infrared Saunas, or a ton of SweetPro Premium Feed Supplements donated by AgriBest Feeds.

The MATE Theater offers classroom-style learning in hour-long intervals on varying topics, such as Safe Pest Control in your Garden, Myth Busting Prairie Rodent Control, and Cow Painting with Bitterroot Sip and Paint. A different country-western musician will be in the MATE Theater at noon each day. A schedule of MATE Theater topics, including the presenter and a description, is listed on the website.

"The MATE theater is our educational portion, so they can come and learn too, not just purchase things," said McCall Linke with the NILE. "Montana State University (MSU) Extension comes and presents on drought mitigation and fertilizer mixing strategies and much more. They provide education to farmers and ranchers too."

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Vendors range from machinery implements to contractors, rodeo and equine associations to embroidery companies. A home and health fair will coincide with the agri-trade portion, offering a wider variety of booths and vendors including clothing, food, nutrition, insurance, crafting, and more.

"MATE is coupled with the home and health expo, which draws more people, and you never know, someone could come for that, but stop by our booth and say I need one of those," said David Weller with Titan Machinery, a long-time MATE vendor. "They've always had good traffic through the whole three days. As far as a vendor, Traci Marchwinski [the MATE show manager] and her staff take good care of us and make sure our needs are met."

Titan Machinery has locations in 11 states, including four in Montana, two in Wyoming, 15 in North Dakota, 10 in South Dakota, and 13 in Nebraska.

"All of the major guys are there, and they all have their newest equipment," Weller said.

Vendors vie for the best booth award in three categories: a large vendor with five or more booths, a small vendor with one to four booths, and a home and health vendor. They are anonymously judged on their appearance, how friendly they are, and their knowledge of their own products and services, among other aspects. Awards are given Thursday.

Area producers may scope future herd sires by viewing the array in the MATE Bull Pen Preview, presented by Northern Ag Network. The exhibitors are listed on the website and are not required to attend all three days. Typically, the website states, a majority of commercial producers fill their pens Thursday and Friday. MATE attendees may enter to win one of two $300 certificates toward the purchase of a bull raised by an exhibitor at the MATE show. Twelve breeders from Montana and one from Wyoming will have bulls on hand at the show.

"It's an opportunity for these cattle guys to come in and show off their bulls," Linke said. "It's a lot of promotion for their breeding programs, they're able to do some private treaty, as well as promote their upcoming bull sales."

Gaining a small reprieve from Montana winter, the 15-day forecast, at the time of print, calls for mild temperatures in Billings during MATE ranging from 38 to 40º and very little chance of precipitation.