Agribusiness center will show off everything from fish farming to tractors

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Right now, Agricenter International is mostly puddles and ruts. The land is bare and muddy. The large exhibition pavilion has no roof or walls. A bus, filled with visiting businessmen, almost gets stuck on an unpaved road.

But officials of Agricenter -- a $7.7 million, first-of-a-kind project in the United States -- are undeniably enthusiastic.

``We hope you all come along with us before all the space is gone,'' Dick Sneddon, president of Agricenter, tells the businessmen who have clambered out of the bus. ``As soon as we are full, there are going to be other agricenters established around the country.''

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What is Agricenter? It's a giant showcase for American and foreign agribusiness -- a kind of supermarket for farmers and industry executives interested in anything from new irrigation techniques and tractors to improved livestock and fish farming.

The center, scheduled to open Oct. 24, already is half full. Some 45 agriculture-related companies are committed to showing off their new products and services -- either in exhibition areas or on the 1,000 acres of available farmland. Officials hope for 300,000 visitors a year.

``Agricenter will capitalize on what we are,'' says Edward W. Cook, the center's first board chairman. ``Eleven crops produce 80 percent of the world's food needs. Almost all are grown in the Memphis area.''

The center itself may well be a sign of how agriculture is changing -- how agribusiness has grown in the past 50 years and how internationally focused it is becoming.

``Any company that's relying just on domestic business isn't going to make it'' in the farm-implement industry, says John Chuchman, marketing manager of Ford Tractor's North American division, which lost money last year. ``The real potential is developing countries -- if they can find a way to pay for'' the machinery.

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