TULARE – The 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space at the World Ag Expo here last week was packed with robotics, automated harvesters, artificial intelligence, as well as low-emission vehicles, management software data and even some traditional tools to help farmers.
“This place is like a candy store, just seeing all the new technology, and (I can) dream of what I might buy one day,” said Dave Roberti, a rancher and farmer from Plumas County, who attended the show with his wife and daughter. “We have a great time coming here. The technology is just amazing. I’ve seen a drone that picks apples off the tree and then puts them in the bin. There’s all kinds of stuff like that.”
The world’s largest agricultural expo has reopened after going virtual in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The gathering hosted over 1,200 exhibitors. Over the decades it has attracted 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 show since the first in 1967, and I’ve loved every one. of them. It’s my toy store,” adding, “It’s a jaw-dropping sight. People are here to see the machines, open the cab door, get in the seat and talk to the factory representatives. It’s a fun time.”
Highlights of the exhibition also included “car rides”, demonstrations, agricultural tours and numerous seminars.
Shannon Douglass, first vice president of the California Farm Bureau and founder and director of CalAgJobs, participated 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 farming journey and the future role of women in the industry. Douglass, a farmer and rancher from Glenn County, said there was increased diversity among show attendees.
“Having more diverse show attendees just shows that we’re more diverse than ever in California agriculture, and that’s welcome,” Douglass said, adding that the event was also a draw for interested young people. by farming.
Glad the event took place in person, Cody Orton, 15, from Sanger, said: “It’s a great show, and I’m so glad he’s back. My grandfather, many of his friends are farmers, and I’ve been around ranchers all my life.”
Orton, who works on a ranch and is considering a career in agriculture, said he was impressed with the new technology and equipment.
Many rally attendees, Wilbur said, are business-minded and interested in shopping or investing in equipment and technology. To highlight the latest emerging technologies, the show announces its 10 new winning products each year, including this year an autonomous, high-precision, zero-carbon robot for vegetable crops, a battery-powered electric tractor and a iPhone app. which uses artificial intelligence to sample and monitor the water potential of the vine.
Sheldon Bosio, Santa Barbara County avocado and citrus grower, who was attending the event for the first time, said, “I think growers have shown a lot of interest in the equipment available and the different apps they could use. a lot of comparisons (shopping), where our price is now compared to what it was a year or two ago, and will this equipment help me increase my production? »
What caught Bosio’s attention were the exhibits of crushing equipment for orchard removal.
“Many orchards are removed due to water issues or are replanted, so how do you remove them effectively?” said Bosio, president of the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Bureau. “Some of them were million-dollar machines. You can put on a one-man show or a two-man show with expensive farm equipment and have labor costs to match. With the increases in the minimum wage and the overtime costs, mechanized machines are ideal for agriculture.”
Chris Scott, senior account manager for Innvictis Crop Care, said the mood among farmers at the show 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 at the show, many spoke of dry conditions, rising costs and falling commodity prices that are expected to affect this growing season.
“One of the main concerns is the high cost of inputs, especially fertilizers and chemicals which have increased,” said David Magaña, senior nuts and produce analyst for Rabo AgriFinance. “Some fertilizers are up 200% year-on-year putting pressure on margins. Concerns about impact of logistics and supply chain bottlenecks (problems) on exports .”
Magaña, who last week announced the release of a new five-year nut market outlook report that includes estimates on production, shipments and prices, said trends affecting all nuts include logistical challenges and a shortage of employees.
Water and challenges caused by the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Magaña said, will put additional pressure on nut crops and suggested 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, February 14-16, 2023. This will be the 55th edition of the event.