The Central District Field Days are in their 25th year and getting ever bigger. LAUREL STOWELL and LEWIS GARDNER went along for a look.
It's a temporary small town - a cross between an outdoor rural supermarket and a high-tech country fair.
It spreads across a motor racing circuit at Feilding and takes a month to set up. It has been called "the best day off the farm" and has become a place to see the latest in agribusiness technology.
There's lots of shiny high-tech gear on display and barely an animal in sight these days - but the crowds that descended on the field days on Thursday clearly regarded it as something of a holiday.
The parked cars cover acres, and this year's 570 stall sites spread across about 3km of tarsealed track, grassy lanes and crushed limestone temporary roads. There's a shuttle service staffed by Rural Alliance volunteers to move people from place to place.
As well as the trade stalls, sellers of food and drink and toilets scattered around, there's a daily programme of entertainment.
There are dog shows, bands and soloists and fencing and tractor-pulling competitions. Today the Royal New Zealand Air Force Black Falcons aerobatic team are due to fly over at midday.
One pavilion holds lifestyle commodities like spa pools and barbecues. Another has gourmet food offerings – cured meats, Pohangina Valley cheeses and the last of the Pheasant Creek wines once made near Marton.
There's at least one bar, and a chill-out zone with beanbags and free Wi-Fi, courtesy of Palmerston North internet service provider Inspire Net.
Children have big bouncy objects to climb on in a kids' zone, and some story reading sessions.
On Thursday there were lots of secondary students wandering around, some in uniform and some not. Rangitikei College students were collecting information about the way the event was organised. Nga Tawa students were preparing for an agribusiness test.
Dress was pretty informal. Plenty of work boots and the dominant colours were black, blue, brown and grey. Some elected to wear rain gear, and there was one shower.
Some of the visitors are there on business - agribusiness - and others out of pleasure or curiosity.
Retired AgResearch scientist Garry Latch wanted to hear the latest on ryegrass endophytes, the fungi that come with the grasses.
He and his team researched endophytes and found the AR37 endophyte. He must have been gratified to hear it's now the most popular in New Zealand.
The AR37 endophyte originally came from France, originally, and he worked out how to get rid of the previous toxic endophyte in rye grass and infect the grass with the new one. The result has been a 9 per cent increase in dairy production, he said.
Another couple who were on business were Andrew and Priscilla France. They have a dry stock farm near Colyton and are in the process of dividing it up differently. They were looking at culverts and water troughs, and also got silvicultural advice about their small pine plantation.
"We hope to be home shortly after lunch time to get some farming done," Priscilla said. "This is business for us, and if we meet some friends, that's special."
It was a different story for Alison and Robert Cleaver, from Palmerston North. Both had a free day and Alison, brought up in the country, has been wanting to go to the field days.
"We're townies and we're just picking up on what's happening," she said.
She was amazed at the huge farm trucks and tractors, and the variety and scale of the offerings. She felt proud to have an event that drew people from far away to her patch of the Manawatu.
She and Robert were rapt to meet some New Plymouth friends by chance, and sat with them watching the New Zealand Army Band play. Robert is a musician himself.
"This band is tops. That's why we are sitting here now," he said.
Their friend Basil Reed is a mechanic, and had already bought a handyman tool. He was hoping to see some animals in a Feilding Sale Yards Tour on Friday.
Even for those with serious business to transact, it's a day out and the general atmosphere is holiday-like.
"I'm enjoying seeing country people I haven't seen in years. It's a brilliant day," Alison said.
There was lots of whizzbang agricultural equipment to look at – the "bigger boys' toys", Gough Caterpillar salesman Dwayne O'Leary said.
The stall featured a 730C2 articulated dump truck – the kind used in major earthmoving jobs. Farmers use trucks like that when they "knock over a hill somewhere, and cart the dirt to somewhere else," he said.
The 13 tonne, six wheel drive machine carries a 31 tonne load, has a 450 horse power engine and a 300 litre-plus diesel tank. Each has a satellite receiver atop the cab, sending out data even after it is sold or leased.
"I could sit at my desk and tell you where it's working, when it's due for a service and how much time it's spending idling."
Whanganui businesses have been coming to the field days for years. Darryl Dowman was there every year until eight years ago, selling motorbikes and four wheelers.
"It was a great PR exercise, catching up with a lot of people, a lot of clients, putting your name and face out there," he said.
Being there also allowed him to compare notes with people from other businesses.
Russell Burgess owns Burgess Matting in Whanganui. The Whanganui East factory employs 17 people, making rubber matting out of end-of-life tyres.
He's been going to the field days for 24 years and sells non-slip matting for stock transport, and a porous mat especially made for animals to stand on while their hooves are being treated. He got the idea for one of his top products, a rubber mat for the back of ATVs, from talking to a farmer at the field days.
Wanganui Enterprises was there, and getting good interest in its beehives and dog kennels and runs, general manager Andy Lynn said. He has a stall every year and said it expensive but the results generally covered costs.
There are 40 people, mostly part-time, who make kennels, beehives and furniture at his plant. The beehives are a new line developed over the last two years and have added five extra jobs. His staff do both light engineering and bespoke woodwork, and the field days are a good place to get new commissions and ideas.
There were other Whanganui businesses there - Ethan Outdoor Furniture, Citi-Box Containers, Paua Early Childhood Home Based Care Service, VetCare Grazing Ltd and others.
The field days have changed a lot since Don Eade started the first one in 1993. It was modelled on the national Mystery Creek Field Days held near Hamilton every year. The first year had just 50 trade stalls, and was a much smaller affair.
In the early years there were more animals present - bullock teams and competitions to count sheep. These days there's barely an animal in sight - but more whizzbang shiny technology than you can shake a stick at.
It's all evidence of the ever-changing face of New Zealand farming.
CENTRAL DISTRICTS FIELD DAYS
+ at Manfeild in Feilding
+ March 15-17, 9.30am-4pm today
+ gate charge, free parking
+ owned and run by media company Stuff