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Big Iron embraces the news

Bobby Volesky, left, product manager for Intelligent Agricultural Solutions, explains how the company's acoustic-based seed monitoring system works during the opening day of the Big Iron farm show in West Fargo. The company's product allows a farmer to use an iPad to assess in real time whether their air seeding system is working as it should.

WEST FARGO -- If you're one of those people who like to kick the tires before buying something, there are lots of tires to kick at Big Iron.

And not all of them are attached to mammoth-sized farm machinery.

As Big Iron 2013 officially got underway Tuesday morning at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, Audrey Grant sat in the largely empty grandstand area while her husband, Chad, test drove a new pickup around the fairgrounds racetrack.

Did they come to Big Iron looking to buy a new vehicle?

"No," Audrey Grant said.

Was it possible they would be leaving with a new vehicle?

"No," Audrey Grant repeated as she waited with her son, Zach, for the test drive to conclude.

So, what did bring them to Big Iron, an annual event that traditionally draws about 80,000 visitors and concludes Thursday afternoon?

"It's just fun to come out and see what's new and walk around," said Grant, whose family has a farm near Winger.

One technology featured at Big Iron this year is an acoustic-based, wireless air-seeding monitoring system made by Fargo-based Intelligent Agricultural Solutions.

Unlike systems that use electronic sensors or cameras to make sure seeds flow smoothly during planting, the IAS model uses a device similar to a stethoscope that listens to sounds seeds make as they move through a planting device and alerts a grower when a clog or other problem is detected, said Bobby Volesky, product manager for IAS.

Volesky said another feature that sets the system apart is that farmers can use their iPad to display planting information in real time.

"It's something a lot of people already have that they're using in their homes every day. Hey, why not bring it out to the tractor and use it out there, too?" Volesky said.

Among the many people checking out Big Iron on Tuesday were visitors from across the world participating in a program hosted by the North Dakota Trade Office and agribusinesses in the state.

The program has hosted more than 750 international guests at Big Iron in the seven years since it began.

More than 100 people from 16 countries are taking part this year, including large contingents from Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Romania, Ukraine and Uruguay.

Many of the visitors attended an event Tuesday morning where they received a greeting from Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who told them: "You're going to learn why North Dakota leads the United States in the production of so many crops."

Dalrymple said the visitor program has resulted in millions of dollars in sales and contributes to the growth in North Dakota exports.

"Our businesses are making great progress throughout the world," he said.

Since 2005, annual exports of North Dakota ag machinery and other products and services have increased about 260 percent, from a value of about $1.2 billion to nearly $4.3 billion last year, Dalrymple said.