World Ag Expo ‘a candy store’ for farmers

The 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space at the World Ag Expo in Tulare last week brimmed with robotics, automated harvesters, artificial intelligence, plus low-emission vehicles, data management software and even some traditional implements to help farmers.

“This place is like a candy store, just seeing all the new technologies, and (I can) dream about what I might be able to buy someday,” said Plumas County rancher and farmer Dave Roberti, who attended the show with his wife and daughter. “We have a great time coming down here. The technology is just incredible. I saw a drone that picks apples off the tree and then sets them in the bin. There are all kinds of things like that.”

The world’s largest agriculture exposition reopened to live attendance after going virtual in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The gathering hosted more than 1,200 exhibitors. Over the decades, it has drawn millions of visitors from almost every continent.

Tulare County cotton farmer Steve Wilbur, chairman of this year’s International Agri-Center World Ag Expo, said, “I’ve attended every single show since the first one in 1967, and I’ve loved every single one. It’s my toy store,” adding, “It’s a tire-kicking show. People are here to see the machines, open the cab door, climb up in the seat and talk to factory representatives. It’s a fun time.”

Highlights at the expo also included “ride and drives,” demonstrations, agricultural tours and numerous seminars.

Shannon Douglass, first vice president of the California Farm Bureau and founder and director of CalAgJobs, took part in a seminar on women in agriculture. She was joined by California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and other professionals to discuss each woman’s agricultural journey and the future role of women in the industry. Douglass, a farmer and rancher in Glenn County, said there is increased diversity among attendees to the expo.

“For show attendees to be more diverse just shows that we are more diverse in California agriculture than ever before, and that is welcome,” Douglass said, adding that the event was also a draw for young people interested in agriculture.

Pleased that the event was held in person, 15-year-old Cody Orton from Sanger said, “It’s a great show, and I’m excited it’s back. My grandpa, a lot of his friends are farmers, and I’ve been around ranchers my whole life.”

Orton, who works on a ranch and is considering a career in agriculture, said he was impressed by new technology and equipment.

Many at the gathering, Wilbur said, are business-minded and interested in shopping or investing in equipment and technology. To highlight the latest emerging technology, each year, the expo announces its top-10 new product winners, which this year included an autonomous, high-precision, zero carbon emission robot for vegetable crops, a battery-powered electric tractor and an iPhone application that uses artificial intelligence to take and track water potential in grapevines.

Santa Barbara County avocado and citrus farmer Sheldon Bosio, who was at the event for the first time, said, “I think there was a lot of interest by growers looking at what equipment was available and different applications that they could use. It was a lot of comparison (shopping), where our price is now compared with where it was a year or two ago, and will this equipment help me increase my output?”

What caught Bosio’s attention were displays of grinding equipment for orchard removal.

“A lot of orchards are being taken out because of water issues or are being replanted, so, how do you efficiently take those out?” said Bosio, president of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau. “Some of those were million-dollar machines. You can have a one-man or two-man show with an expensive piece of ag equipment and be equivalent in your labor costs. With minimum wage increases and overtime costs, mechanized machinery is great for agriculture.”

Chris Scott, senior account manager for Innvictis Crop Care, said the mood among farmers at the expo was positive. He said, “We have beautiful weather, and it seems people are happy to get out and walk around.”

Despite the sunny weather and positive atmosphere of the show, many spoke of dry conditions, rising costs and low commodity prices expected to affect this growing season.

“One big concern is high input costs, particularly fertilizers and chemicals that have been increasing,” said David Magaña, tree nut and produce senior analyst for Rabo AgriFinance. “Some fertilizers are up 200% year over year, and that is putting pressure on margins. There are concerns about the impact of logistic bottlenecks and supply chain (issues) on exports.”

Magaña, who last week announced the release of a new, five-year walnut market outlook report that includes estimates on production, shipments and prices, said trends affecting all tree nuts include logistical challenges and a shortage of employees.

Water and challenges caused by Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requirements, Magaña said, will put extra pressure on nut crops and suggested that plantings will increase in the northern part of the state. He added that growers will likely replant old orchards with high-value varieties, such as Chandlers in the case of walnuts. Sustainability, he said, will “continue to play an increasingly relevant role.”

Work has already begun on plans for the next World Ag Expo, Feb. 14-16, 2023. It will be the event’s 55th edition.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at [email protected].)

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