Tulare's World Ag Expo wraps up run with exhibitors eager to return

The Fresno BeeFebruary 13, 2014 

— The World Ag Expo in Tulare, the largest show of its kind in the world, came to a close on Thursday with exhibitors already lining up for next year's farm equipment extravaganza.

"You know you had a good show when people are in the office ready to sign up for a booth for the 2015 show," said Stephen Cunha, volunteer chairman of the World Ag Expo. "Things looked really good this year."

The three-day show that is held annually on the sprawling grounds of the International Agri-Center attracts about 100,000 people and more than 1,400 exhibitors. This year, exhibits that drew lots of attention from farmers and ranchers looked at ways to increase efficiency, reduce water usage and cut labor costs.

Jared Siegler, owner of GeoBlu Services from Arizona, wowed several observers with his unmanned air vehicle, or UAV. The device has four small propellers that easily lift it into the sky. The UAV can be used to provide the user with views of an orchard, cattle ranch or property.

The UAV can also be outfitted with specially designed cameras that can measure plant stress, disease and pest detection.

Siegler said the expo has exceeded his expectations. The UAV was given a Top 10 New Product Award at this year's show.

"I was not totally prepared for all the attention," Siegler said. "This is my first year here and it has been a great opportunity."

The base cost for the starter kit is about $2,800.

Equally satisfied were the owners of Automated Ag Systems, a Washington State company that rolled out its self-powered picking platform for fruit growers. The platform, called the Bandit Xpress, was also a new product award winner.

J.J. Dagorett, president of the company, said interest was so high that he is planning a demonstration of the platform for several citrus growers Friday.

The platform can fit up to four harvesters at once and moves slowly through the orchard or grove, allowing the workers to harvest or prune trees without the use of a ladder.

Dagorett said he developed the equipment as way to cut labor costs and increase worker safety.

"This is a big step to getting people off those dang ladders," Dagorett said. "This is the difference between waking up with a sore back and getting up and being ready to go."

The platform also has lights, allowing workers to harvest at night. Workers are protected by a heavy-duty harness that is attached to the platform. The Bandit Xpress is being used by apple growers in Washington and sells for $55,000.

"We made it affordable for the grower who has 40 acres to 4,000 acres," Dagorett said. "We want everyone to have the benefit of it."

California's ongoing drought also boosted interest from farmers in a device that directs water to a plant or tree's roots.

"The growers are looking for anything that can help them with their water situation," said Lisa Marie Evans, president of Deep Drip Agricultural Stakes in Arizona. "And we heard from all types of farmers, including walnut, pistachio and cherry tree growers."

Exhibitors were not the only ones who enjoyed the expo. Dairy farmer Steve Gaspar of Madera is a regular attendee. For Gaspar, the expo gives him a chance to step away from the grind of running a dairy and spend time with his wife and four children.

At one booth, his 6-year-old son Michael waved to him from the cab of a shiny blue New Holland tractor.

"My son loves coming here, he has been talking about it since the last farm show," Gaspar said. "He looks forward to it every year."

Also expecting to be a return visitor was Cathy Crosby of Fresno, who visited the expo for the first time this year. She came at the urging of her mother, Betty Hampton, a retired farmer and frequent visitor.

"To see the variety of equipment here gives you a better appreciation of the complexity of agriculture," Crosby said. "You also really begin to understand how fortunate we are to live in a place where you have all these wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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