WHETHER THEY FARM IN CALIFORNIA OR WISCONSIN, growers at this year’s World Ag Expo will be searching for ways to farm and ranch more efficiently.

Wherever they farm, the input costs for producing food and fiber have never been greater.

For California producers particularly, irrigation water will be right next to efficiency as they look for equipment and new technology to help them squeeze the most from their crops while using the least amount of water possible.

The shopping lists may change from year to year, but producers say they attend World Ag Expo to search for specific items.

But, as with any shopping trip, new and interesting equipment is always hard to pass-up.

Global Position System (GPS) guidance systems and precision agriculture have taken American agriculture by storm, yet growers plan to look for new applications for this technology at this year’s Expo.

Drip irrigation was first introduced into the U.S. more than 30 years ago, and continues to be installed at a rapid pace.

For many, writing a check for a micro or drip irrigation system is like buying the farm all over again, or doubling what they pay for open ground. Nevertheless, it’s another item high on the shopping list of growers at the show.

The cost of fuel was once so cheap growers didn’t worry about how many passes it took to plant and harvest a crop. Now, they note with pride how few passes it takes.

Cannon Michael, vice president of the family-owned Bowles Farming Co. at Los Banos, Calif., reduced it to just one pass after finding the Optimizer at the 2002 Expo.

He calls it a “watershed moment.”

A one-pass tillage system, the Optimizer “has completely revolutionized our business,” says Michael. “It has enabled us to save fuel, reduce dust and cut tractor emissions.”

A sixth generation family member to work at Bowles, Michael knows exactly how much the Optimizer has saved in cold, hard cash — almost $44,000 annually in disking, chiseling and triplaning on 2,000 acres. Labor costs were reduced by almost 82 percent, fuel costs by 71 percent.

Finding innovations at the Expo has become a tradition for producers, says Michael. “We always have hopes of encountering breakthroughs like this at the World Ag Expo. This year we’re particularly interested in GPS scrapers and levelers.”

California producers send many of their workers to the Expo. It’s a morale booster to attend the world’s largest annual farm equipment and ag technology show, but it can also result in workers discovering products and services that may result in more efficiency and productivity in their daily work.

Daniel Burns, manager of San Juan Ranch at Dos Palos, Calif., says he too has found tillage equipment that has allowed him to make fewer passes and reduce overall costs.

He first found a double-row cotton planter at the Expo that not only increased yields while improving efficiency, it led to a revolution in California cotton production. Many growers have followed Burns’ lead in planting two cotton rows to a bed rather that one.

“This year I’m really focused on looking at GPS systems and getting information on drip systems, since we’re going that direction,” he says. “I also want to find a grain drill — something in the neighborhood of 25 feet to 30 feet wide.”

Farmers are always looking for bargains, Burns says. “I’ve picked up fertilizer tanks at the show at very good prices. It’s nice to meet friends at Expo ... and pick up deals while you’re at it.”

Erick Hansen, a partner in the family-owned Hansen Ranches at Corcoran, Calif., mixes family with business at the Expo.

“I spend half a day entertaining my boys, who range in age from six years old to eight months. The other half of the day I get very serious about looking for what I need for the farm.

“The price of fertilizer and fuel is obviously a huge consideration this year, and at the Expo we’ll be looking toward the future. I’m going to be looking closely at drip systems and water monitoring equipment to try to bring down irrigation costs.”

Fred Starrh, Shafter, Calif., grower, says, “I usually go for a day and look for specific equipment, depending on what we’re focusing on. This year, we’re going to be looking at almond harvesting equipment, since we’re moving away from cotton.”

Starrh’s father came to the valley in 1936 to grow cotton on a 30-acre farm in Kern County. Four years ago, the Starrh family grew 6,000 acres of cotton on the west side of Kern County, but now they’ve pared that down considerably, switching acres to alfalfa, pistachios, almonds and carrots.

“I’ve attended World Ag Expo since it started in 1968,” says Tom Barcellos, grower and dairyman near Tipton, Calif. “There’s always something interesting.

“I look for specific products when I first get to the show. This year I want to look at shop tools — cut-off saws particularly. We’re now doing 80 percent of our own repairs, as opposed to probably 30 percent a few years ago.

“I’m also very interested in seeing the refinements available in GPS technology that might help us make our operation more efficient. And there are the issues regarding tractor emissions — I want to see what’s coming down the road in that arena because we are going to have to deal with that. It’s coming fast.”

Growers in the San Joaquin Valley will soon be faced with replacing tractor and truck diesel engines to achieve lower emissions due to stricter air quality regulations.

email: hcline@farmpress.com