It’s called the World Ag Expo and, brother, they aren’t kidding.
I traveled to Tulare on a foggy Tuesday morning expecting your basic fairground-size lot full of shiny tractors and a bunch of guys wearing feed caps looking at ‘em.
OK, both of those were there — in abundance.
But so, so much more. The whole thing is just ... vast.
I actually went there to talk to some Rabobank experts about Kern County ag land values considering water restrictions, new labor laws, etc. Which I’ll get to in Sunday’s paper.
But I was blown away by the expo itself, so you get to hear about it, too.
Everywhere you turned there were new contraptions to monitor, feed, plow, harvest, market, milk, package, sell anything from carrots to honey.
And, yeah, big, big machines.
Like the berry harvester that stopped me in my tracks.
This thing is huge. It sort of looks like one of those gas station car washes, only on wheels.
It has a giant opening in the center with a multipronged turnstile that knocks off the berries. They drop onto a conveyor belt that moves them into boxes.
It even has sensors so it can steer itself. And tops out at 14 mph.
At about $220,000, it’s not cheap.
But increasing labor costs can make it competitive, the salesman noted.
While I was head-whipping and stopping every few feet to talk to different merchants (a giant self-massage brush for dairy cows? Seriously?), other, more experienced expo attendees were more discerning.
Jeff Wong, a professor of horticulture and crop science at Cal Poly, said he enjoys the expo but hadn’t seen anything super-whiz-bang-new on Tuesday.
But that’s because he already knew about the drones.
Get out! Drones?
Yeah, drones that can monitor chlorophyll activity in crops.
So how does that help a farmer?
Peaked chlorophyll can mean there’s a problem with water, fertilizer or bacteria, Wong explained.
I guess that would be handy info, I said, then promptly excused myself to go find some drones.
Not only are there inspection drones that can give farmers a bird’s-eye view of chlorophyll and whatnot, there were drones with thermal cameras that could show when an animal was in heat or how irrigation is working, according to John Vonlunen, president of Rocky Mountain Unlimited Systems.
“This is very new,” he said of agricultural applications for drones. He mainly works with public-sector entities, such as police and search and rescue.
But drones can be highly useful to ag.
And while the systems are pricey ($13,500 to $15,000), that can still be more economical than, say, hiring a helicopter for few days, Vonlunen said.
That is just super-cool.
But back to those tractors.
I bumped into local dairy farmers Stacey and Curtis Vanden Berge at lunch, who had their two little ones in tow, including 2-year-old Case.
The expo is often described as "Disneyland for farmers" but I wondered how much fun it was for kids.
“He loves it,” Curtis Vanden Berge said. “He sees tractors every day but he still wants to sit on every tractor we see here.”
If he gets to ride that berry harvester I will be totally. Jealous.