As growers eye expenses, anticipate new rules: Enviroes in gimme caps everywhere at farm show

The “enviroes” were everywhere at World Ag Expo this year. These “enviroes” were wearing gimme caps, Carhartt jackets and vests and well-scuffed work boots.

The environment was definitely in with farmers at this year's World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. Part of the environmental bent farmers had during three perfect weather days at the world's biggest agricultural toy store has been thrust on them by regulators — like the impending agriculture residue burning ban and anti-dust air quality regulations.

However, growers were not complaining too much about those regulatory issues because some, like the reduced dust issue, fit into farmers' efforts to reduce production costs.

Denny Knoll, vice president of Cal-Line Equipment, Livermore, Calif., said growers are resigned to the fact they will no longer be able to burn ag residue after 2010 and his business of selling and renting larger chippers, stump grinders and similar equipment manufactured by Bandit Industries was brisk at the farm show.

“Most guys are really not complaining about the burning ban,” said Knoll. They have gone beyond complaining and are more interested in what it will cost then to dispose of old trees and vines without the burning option.

“Growers want to know the labor costs involved in chipping versus burning. They obviously want to know how much the equipment costs. We definitely made good sales at the show,” said Knoll.

Even though ag burning is still allowed, there are so many restrictions and permitting process, growers are often delayed in disposing of pushed and piled orchards and vineyards and replanting. Growers are hiring people like Scott Dipman of S&C Tree Service in Burlingame, Calif., to push and chip orchards and vineyards.

He said the cost for a complete removal job ranges from $500 to as much as $1,500 per acre. “One big advantage of commercial removal is that there is no down time waiting to burn,” he added. That can make a big economic difference in replanting a block of ground where an orchard or vineyard was taken out. The quicker a new orchard or vineyard can be planted, the sooner it can achieve production.

Dipman now hauls the chipped trees to biofuel plants for electricity generation. Residue from a vineyard removal can often be tilled back into the soil. There is too much wood from orchards for that.

“So far the biofuel plants can take all the chips we can deliver, but when the complete ban goes into effect in 2010, there will be too much for biofuel plants to take,” he said.

Knoll said agriculture will then start to look to urban areas to take it as landscape mulch. He said Bandit has already developed a large chipper than will turn out mulch in an array of colors to make it more appealing to urban homeowners and landscapers. “We think there is a big urban market for mulch that agriculture has not tapped,” he said.

This was the second World Ag Expo for Bandit Industries regional sales representative Cory Gross of Remus, Mich.

”Tulare is always a good show for us and it is getting better with the reduced burning issue in California,” he said.

Onerous air quality regulations for dust emissions are one reason farmers were interested in what Ray Penuel had on display at the Northwest Tillers booth.

Reduced tillage

Penuel, product development manager for the Yakima, Wash., company, said farmers are concerned about reducing dust to keep air quality monitors away from the farm, but are more interested in Northwest equipment to reduce tillage.

“The cost of fuel and labor has all farmers looking for ways to reduce costs by reducing passes across the field. They want to do everything in one pass. Reducing dust is an added incentive to looking at different ways to farm cheaper.”

Penuel has been coming to World Ag Expo for 18 years and “each year is a little different.

“This year we had a lot of young farmers coming by because they are interested in new ways of doing things. It sure looks like the older generation is turning over the farming to a young generation,” said Penuel. “We also learn a lot from the farmers who come by and tell us what they want to accomplish in reduced tillage or minimum tillage.”

He has seen attendance at the show decline over the years, but he said that is a result of fewer farmers farming more acreage.

“Used to be you'd talk to farmers who farmed 1,000 or maybe 2,000 acres. Now you talk to guys who farm 15,000 to 30,000 acres,” Penuel explained.

“The leads we get from the show are phenomenal and this is always a good show for us. This year it was a very positive attitude among farmers,” he added.

Fuel cost concern

Jim Ghidelli and Charlie Wood, both of Madera, Calif., were at Tulare looking for solutions to one of the biggest challenges Richie Farms faces — rising fuel costs.

They custom harvest and haul for other farmers as well as Richie Farms. “We are now charging fuel surcharges for hauling for others. We have no choice,” said Ghidelli.

“There is not much else you can do. We make sure we have full loads to reduce the cost. We came to Tulare looking for equipment which will haul bigger payloads to reduce fuel costs,” said Wood.

Valent sales representatives Tino Lopez of Clovis, Calif., and Lyndon Inouye said they had many Pest Control Advisers and growers coming by Valent's indoor booth asking about new products.

“People are looking for new chemistry and new technology to do a better job of farming,” said Inouye.

Sanger, Calif., PCA Jim White and Lopez said growers also were talking about the weather this year. Overnight temperatures dipped well into the 20s before the sun rose on Thursday's show date. Apparently, there was not damage. However, the season is early and growers are doubly concerned.

“Growers are concerned about early frost because we are probably 10 days ahead with bloom this season. And, chilling hours have not been adequate for trees, especially for cherries,” said Lopez.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also came back to the show for a second visit. When he came in 2004, he was the conquering hero, having recalled Gray Davis with a pledge to return California to prosperity.

This year he came back with his popularity at a much lower level, having suffered a major defeat at the polls last fall with the defeat of several pet ballot initiatives. Nevertheless, he pushed for another statewide initiative, an ambitious $222 billion plan to improve California's infrastructure; shore up California's weakening levee system that protects the state's major water supply in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and to develop new water sources.

He received nothing but support on his water issues from valley farmers, but farmers have been down the new water-levee protection road before to no avail.

Unlike the first time he came, the governor who many believe will have a difficult time getting re-elected, worked the crowd strolling through the show grounds talking with exhibitors and visitors.

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