There's quite a lot to see at the 52nd annual World Ag Expo running Tuesday through Thursday at the International Agri-Center in Tulare. At roughly 100 acres, the event showcases a wide array of the latest in farming products from manufacturers around the world.

New technology wowed visitors at Monday's Media Preview Day. Lasers and GPS systems incorporated into heavy agricultural equipment allow growers to better cope with the ongoing farm labor shortage in the Central Valley.

But high technology isn't the only draw. Here's a sampling of some of the event's coolest attractions:

Semi-autonomous tree shaker

In terms of productivity, there's a big difference between an experienced pistachio tree-shaking-machine operator and a newbie. But Orchard Machinery Corp. is narrowing the gap.

The company's Sprint model uses a laser to spot and identify a tree before pulling alongside it, sending out a machine head, clamping on and shaking the tree to harvest its nuts.

Much of the process is automated; all the operator has to do is push the button that sends out the head. That's helpful, Vice President of Operations Brian Andersen said, because it increases consistency and reduces wear and tear on machine and driver alike.

"You can put somebody in it and they're productive in no time," he said.

GPS-equipped cotton picker

In a show full of hulking farm equipment, John Deere's CP690 cotton-picker is a giant.

The machine's front-end harvesting system is nothing new. But the chute that blows cotton to a new rear-end baler comes equipped with a state-of-the-art GPS system that records the volume of incoming crop along with location.

"That allows us to have yield data, mapping and monitoring, all on the fly," said Brian Montgomery, integrated solutions manager at Fresno Equipment, which sells the CP690.

The baler is a big improvement, too, emphasis on big: It gathers up and creates a roll of cotton measuring 7 ½ feet wide and weighing about 6,000 pounds.

Adjustable tree hedger

Tree-pruning machinery made by French ag company Collard Manufacturing used to focus on the olive market. But last year, mindful of the Central Valley's ag labor shortage, it turned its attention to almond growers.

The company's P2000A hedger has two adjustable arms, each equipped with up to eight spinning saws. An operator driving through an orchard can trim trees to let in sunlight on either side of the machine. And if an adjustment is necessary, the hydraulically controlled arms can be tilted vertically or horizontally while on the go.

The machine isn't for large, commercial jobs, said Myron Strong, territory manager for Gearmore Inc., based in Chino. "It's made for someone who wants to do their own work," he said.

Twin-fan air blast sprayer

Spraying pesticides on almond and pistachio trees can be a rough business. The Nelson Hardie 6800E 140 horsepower twin-fan sprayer is built to endure the job.

The bulk of the machine is stainless steel, bolts included. But where strength counts most — in its two 34-inch intake fans, one in front of the sprayer and one in back — Yuba City-based Nelson Mfg. Co. Inc. chose to use cast aluminum.

Salesman Jim Bennett says that's important because of what the machine's fans suck in.

"The cast aluminum blades can withstand limbs, sticks and leaves that might come through," he said.

The World Ag Women Pavilion

A huge room set aside to entertain and educate farmers' wives may seem a tad out of date in 2019. But the truth is not everyone swoons for a self-driving tree-shaker.

Besides hosting gardening demonstrations and fashion shows, the pavilion will feature three cooking demonstrations daily, put on by Visalia's The Vintage Press Restaurante, Cool Hand Luke's Steakhouse in Fresno and other well-known Central Valley restaurants.

"Whoever's in the building gets to taste it," said Terry Gomez, with Valley Oak Quilt, which will put on demonstrations at the pavilion. "And," she said, "the food is always …" she trailed off and gave the "two-thumbs-up" sign.

Career and Education Center

Next to the women's pavilion is a room filled with displays touting ag-education programs at universities across the country.

One is Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, ranked among the top 10 in the nation and located 90 minutes south of Portland. Interestingly, half of its 12 programs can be completed remotely online.

Head Advisor Nick Fleury said about 40 percent of the college's 2,400 students take online classes, including courses like soil science, which allows participants to buy kits and test dirt wherever they live.

"They may have families, they may have jobs," he said. "Having an online program allows flexibility."

Tulare Union (High School) Band Boosters food stand

A body's bound to tire out browsing row after row of shiny new farm equipment. Fortunately, vendors selling everything from Angus burgers to Portuguese food to tacos are spread throughout the event's grounds.

One particularly enticing option is being put on by the Tulare Union (High School) Band Boosters. The stand raises money for the band's 120 students by selling pork spare ribs, bratwurst meals, pulled pork sandwiches and hot dogs.

Cook Daniel Parr proudly explained the spare ribs (and most everything else on the menu) come straight off the pecan wood-fired grill, whose bellowing smoke drew hungry farmers from far off.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com to receive free newsletters about local business.

(1) comment

Jerry Todd

Be sure to check the My Job Depends on Ag booth. Launched in 2015 by a local grower, it now boasts over 85,000 members. They just completed a film series to be aired on Valley Public Television and soon nationally.

I'll be working the booth with some great people on Wednesday.

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