Written by The Business Journal Staff
If it’s the second week in February, it’s time for the World Ag Expo to take over Tulare.
During this year’s edition of the largest gathering of farm equipment manufacturers in the world, the 49th annual WAE, innovations in irrigation and worries about a slowdown in China took center stage.
And in light of recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, security was also top of mind. On Monday, before the show even officially opened its doors to visitors, five teams of explosive-sniffing canines guided by police handlers swept the expo grounds.
Spread out over 2.6 million square feet of display space at the International Agri-Center, the massive show draws visitors from nearly every state and more than 50 countries and features more than 1,500 exhibitors and vendors.
This year, over the course of its three-day run, the expo is expected to draw more than 100,000 show goers.
And while locals joke that it “always rains during the farm show,” this year the weather was made to order, providing clear blue backdrops without a hint of what farmers like to call “liquid sunshine.”
But there was plenty of talk about water, even if the El Nino weather pattern is currently providing more rain than California farmers have seen since the state’s historic drought began browning the Golden State.
Jon Johnston, president of Vancouver, Wash.-based Irrigation Accessories, was at the show to show off a device called a boomback, which attaches to center pivot irrigation systems to provide pinpoint water application.
Johnston’s company’s motto is: “Water less. Grow more.”
Attending his eighth World Ag Expo, Johnston did not have his own booth at this year’s show. “I just came to support the pivot manufacturers that display my product,” he said.
In the multi-faceted world of irrigation systems, Johnston said that center pivots have been slow to catch on in California.
“There are probably only about 2,500 pivot systems in the entire state,” Johnston said. “But in a state like Nebraska alone, there are more than 30,000 pivots.”
“All of the pivot manufacturers would love to get into California,” Johnston added. “But growers here still seem to prefer flood irrigation,” which he said “is much less water-efficient.”
“Some of the larger [California] growers who’ve converted from hand line to pivots have seen tremendous water savings, in some cases as much as 33 percent,” Johnston said.
Brian Breshears has attended the farm show for two decades. His company, GK Machine, based in Donald, Ore., manufacturers tree diggers, sprayers and harvest equipment. “We supply a lot of the equipment to farmers growing strawberries and blueberries,” Breshears said.
While many of those in the booths surrounding him were talking about a noticeable slowdown in orders from China as that country’s economy seems to have cooled in recent months, Breshears said GK Machine made a decision a number of years ago not to do any business with China, “which we feel good about right now. We try to keep everything in the U.S.,” he added.
But Ross Ayler, a sales manager for Monosem, a French firm that manufactures precision vacuum planters, said his company continues to do “a ton of business with China.”
“We actually have a third-party assembly plant there,” Ayler said. “We do a lot of work with the Chinese government farms, which are really trying hard to improve their productivity and overall operations right now.”
Monosem, which was recently acquired by John Deere but continues to operate independently from Deere, sells its machines for as little as $10,000 for a one-row planter and as much as $400,000 for a unit that will plant up to 48 rows at a time.
“Our machines can plant anything from small row seed crops to lima beans,” Ayler said.
Also at this year’s event, as is the WAE tradition, a bevy of new technology and equipment was showcased as part of the Farm Show’s Top Ten New Product awards.
Among the more popular new products to debut this year:
• Ace Pump’s Gemini Dual Pump Kit, which allows users to operate two Ace Pumps from a single hydraulic supply manually or with a pulse width modulated control signal.
• The Hesston RearSteer option, which allows a windrower from Massey Ferguson to perform normally in a field but during transport, transform into a combine for self-propelled forage harvester-style steering.
• Coldwell Solar’s MegaWash, which reduces water usage and work time when cleaning solar panels.
• LiftGator’s new XTR liftgate system, which provides an alternative to permanent liftgates, allowing truck owners to quickly and easily attach and remove the system from their vehicles.
• Orchard Machinery Corp.’s fully automated Tree Seeker, which uses a “seeing eye” to navigate through orchards, measure a tree’s diameter and shake it before moving on to the next tree.
Like hundreds of other ag equipment makers, GK Machine, which has been in business since 1976, is a WAE mainstay. Company owner Breshears says he can’t afford not to make the annual pilgrimage to Tulare.
“We don’t really do a lot of business here but if we don’t exhibit, people will think we’ve gone out of business,” he said. “If you want to be taken seriously, you have to be here. Just about everybody who’s anybody comes to this show.”
George Lurie | Reporter can be reached at:
490-3464 or e-mail email@example.com