World Ag Expo Day 3: A beautifully wet day for a tractor parade

Melvin Monteiro of Tulare tried for years to organize a tractor parade at the World Ag Expo. On Thursday, the final day of the expo, he got his wish.

About 25 pieces of farm equipment rolled down Median Street, sloshing through muddy puddles left by a steady rain. Despite the cold and wet weather, Monteiro said the parade was a success.

“I have been trying for years to put something like this together,” Monteiro said. “It’s never been done before and because this is the 50th anniversary, we decided to do it.”

Monteiro, an ag expo volunteer for 39 years, was excited to finally put the event together. As the owner of a trucking company, he knew who to tap for help. Tractor collectors, fellow trucking company owners and farmers volunteered to show off their equipment. Monteiro loaded an 800-horsepower Claas corn harvester on one of his trucks and drove it in the parade.

With the expo’s anniversary in mind, a few of the tractors dated back to 1967, including a 5020 Diesel John Deere tractor owned by Art Van Beek, a Tipton dairy farmer. Van Beek said he still uses the tractor to spread manure at the dairy.

“We call this tractor Old Reliable,” he said. “It is still a working tractor and it’s a good one.”

Expo visitors lined Median Street to watch the big machines rumble by. One of them was youngster Mackenzie Haynes of Three Rivers. She wearing a tractor T-shirt and clutching a toy tractor.

“I like tractors a lot,” she said.

Her mother, Annie Haynes, said her daughter didn’t seem to mind the cold temperatures or the rain.

“She is having a good time watching tractors,” Haynes said.

Inspired by gophers

They say farmers are natural problem solvers and Garry McCaslin of Shafter is no different. The farmer-turned-inventor is the creator of the Dripper Gripper, a device made of high density polymer that holds irrigation drip lines in place and slightly off the ground.

McCaslin, an almond farmer, was losing the battle against pesky gophers that would emerge from the ground and chew holes in his drip lines. McCaslin realized that because he was covering part of the line with dirt to keep it in place, it was easy for the gophers to munch on the tubing.

“I had a guy working five days a week repairing the lines because of all the damage,” McCaslin said. “But not any more.”

McCaslin created a device that holds the line in place while keeping it slightly off the ground. No more burying the line and, consequently, very little (if any) gopher trouble.

“If they can’t easily get to the line when they come out of the ground, they leave it alone,” he said.

It didn’t take long for McCaslin to realize he could help other almond farmers battling the same problem by marketing his new invention, which he dubbed the Dripper Gripper.

Although the prototype was made of PVC pipe and duct tape, the final version is made from a mold and is manufactured in nearby Lindsay.

The Dripper Gripper sells for $1.50 to $1.90 a piece, depending on the size.

McCaslin and his son, Dustin, said they have been surprised at how many other farmers are using the device.

“We’ve had everyone from a passion fruit grower in Hawaii to one of the largest hop growers in the country buy from us,” McCaslin said.

Linking candidates with ag careers

Careers in agriculture and related industries are growing so much that employers can’t find enough applicants, said representatives with Cal Ag Jobs, a web-based service connecting agriculture employers with job seekers. The company was an exhibitor at this year’s World Ag Expo.

“Right now, we have more plant science jobs than we have candidates,” said Miranda Driver, who heads marketing for Cal Ag Jobs. “There is a void out there and we are trying to help fill that.”

Also doing their part are more than a dozen colleges and universities that attended the expo with the hope of recruiting students. Several colleges, including Fresno State; University of California, Davis; and University of Arizona have seen an increase in students interested in their agriculture programs.

“Food and agriculture is a very important issue right now and students are starting to realize how many industries are connected to agriculture,” said Michelle Perez, undergraduate recruitment counselor at Fresno State. “And it can be the vehicle for where you want to go with your career.”

Interest in the environment is also driving interest in schools with agriculture programs. One of the more recent majors created at the University of California, Davis, is sustainable agriculture and food systems.

“Students understand the challenges that are out there when it comes to food and agriculture, and they want to help change things,” said Corrine Hawes, student leadership program coordinator at UC Davis.

Other young people are driven by the desire to join the family farm. Antoinette Dulcich, a junior at the University of Arizona majoring in agriculture business, said she is the only one of three children in her family that has an interest in a career in farming. The Dulcich family are table grape growers in the Bakersfield area.

“My grandparents started with 60 acres and the farm has grown to thousands of acres,” Dulcich said. “And it’s important for me to see that continue in the family.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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