Finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk instantly creates a giddy personality change for the finder and brings instantaneous visions on how to spend the newfound wealth.

The 100,000 or so attendees and exhibitors at the 2011 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. in early February shared a similar excitement, linked in part to surging commodity prices and record U.S. farm export sales. Many farmers envision black ink bottom lines this year as the sea of red ink begins to evaporate.

Among those bullish about his company's prospects this year is Clyde Ulrich, owner of Sierra Packing Solutions in Kingsburg, Calif.

“2011 will be a growth year,” Ulrich said on the second day of the company’s exhibit at Expo, the world’s largest farm exposition.

Sierra Packing Solutions has grown continuously over the last 15 years except for a small dip in 2009. The company provides a wide range of “farm to fork” supplies including grape bags and tree fruit trays. Ulrich demonstrated a plastic stretch wrap (roping) machine designed to stabilize pallet loads.

“I think we’re the only ones with a stretch film machine (at Expo)” Ulrich said. “We’ve had a lot of interest in that. This has been a good show.”

Meanwhile, farmers Jordan, Kurt, and Steven Parsons (all brothers) engaged in haggling with a sales representative at the John Deere equipment exhibit.

The Parsons family operates Parsons and Sons Custom Harvesting and Farming based in Ducor, Calif. The operation includes dryland grain and hay production in the southern San Joaquin Valley, plus custom harvesting including specialty crops in the south valley.

“We are looking for a bank out wagon to shuttle grain from the combine to the trailers,” said Jordan as he took a short break from the sales pitch. “We are looking at new combines, not necessarily to buy now, but just ideas for the future. They (dealers) are talking a good deal at the show.”

Buying new equipment can translate into reducing production costs over the long haul.

“One new combine might replace two or three of what we currently run,” Parsons said. “That could be a positive for us with increasing labor costs. We’re seeing a lot of technological increases in capacity and the mere size of the equipment. ”

Parsons is not tied to a single equipment paint color (manufacturer).

“I’m open to any brand,” Parsons said. “You have to keep your options open. I’m not a green guy but I’m looking at a green combine so you never know.”

The Internet savvy young farmer is also shopping online for equipment; always factoring in transportation costs.

“They don’t manufacture a lot of farm equipment in California for my industry so we’re looking in the Midwest at bank out wagons, combines, and headers.”

Marty Coert of Fruit Growers Supply Company Packing Services, Exeter, Calif., had several strong customer leads at the company’s WAE exhibit. The company focuses on fruit coatings, wax application equipment, and related packinghouse services. Several on-site scaled-down machines piqued interest.

“Traffic has been good, the weather has helped, and this has been a good show,” Coert said. “A lot of people are watching oranges circulate across the scaled-down equipment. They have questions which lead to discussions on our products and services.”

Searching for innovation

Riding the tractor-pulled shuttle across the 2.6 million square feet of show ground was a handful of farmers from Thatcher, Ariz., including cotton, wheat, and alfalfa grower Dennis Palmer of VIP Farms.

“I am looking for innovations that might make our operation more efficient and productive and make more money - that’s the bottom line,” Palmer said. “We try to take the cream of the crop and apply some of the new ideas into our farming systems.”

High on Palmer’s must-see list were new tractors and GPS technology. GPS is already a mainstay on Palmer’s 3,000 acre farm.

“GPS has helped increase our production and efficiency. The rows sure are pretty when they are straight,” Palmer grinned.

Palmer planned to visit drip irrigation-related exhibits and seminars.

About 1,200 international visitors from 64 countries attended Expo including farmer Durval Dourado Neto from Piracicaba, Brazil. He raises livestock and grows corn, urucum (fruit pigment), and common bean on about 1,500 acres.

Neto is also a general agriculture professor at the University of SãoPablo (USP). He led 28 USP agriculture students across the Expo grounds as part of a 16-day California agriculture tour. Other stops included Paramount Citrus, University of California-Davis, USDA in Parlier, and the Sequoia National Park.

During his Expo rounds, Neto was particularly interested in harvesting equipment and plant products.

“I am looking for plant products to apply to plant leaves to minimize high temperature and water stress.”

The major farm products grown in Brazil include livestock (mostly dairy), soybeans, corn, sugarcane (for sugar and ethanol), eucalyptus trees (energy, paper and furniture), and common bean. Brazil ranks second in the world behind the United States in global soybean production. Neto says rust is the top disease problem in Brazilian soybeans. Without herbicides about 70 percent of the crop would be lost.

Brazil has about 675 million acres of farm land; about 1 percent is irrigated. Environmental regulations are heavily impacting farms. A minimum of 20 percent of each farm’s acreage is set aside into preservation-type areas. About 75 percent of each farm’s acreage in the Amazonian rain forest is placed in preserves.

“The biggest challenge for Brazilian farmers is trying to make a profit while farm product prices decrease,” Neto explained. “Farmers are trying to increase productivity to produce more with less profit.” 

cblake@farmpress.com