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Farm work much easier with automated technology
For those who plant, harvest and process local farm products, the changes may appear to have been gradual.
But in a single generation, global positioning systems technology and computerized automation has revolutionized many quaint, slow-moving local enterprises.
"Back then, you had your work cut out for you," said Matthew Coe, general manager of COE Orchard Equipment Inc. "You had manual transmission. You had to put in the clutch and take it out of gear. And things weren't as reliable." COE had several models of harvesting machines on display at the Colusa Farm Show this week at the Colusa County Fairgrounds.
"Everything's diesel-powered and you've got air cabs instead of open cabs," said Coe of the company's tree shaking machines.
Cabs are fully outfitted with stereo systems and the windows are tinted.
"They do look like spaceships," he said of a $110,000 machine.
Randall Lee, 51, and his younger brothers were checking out the latest models.
Back when their grandfather, Tom Chan, made a name for himself, nothing was mechanized, Lee said.
"Even when I was a little kid, everything was mostly man-powered," Lee said.
He remembers when the first mechanical tree shakers were mounted "up on the back of two-ton trucks."
His younger brothers, Derrek Lee, 41, and Ryonn Lee, 35, had heard these details before. They stood by, listening to their older brother talk about the difficulty of farming a generation ago.
"They have no clue what 12 hours of hoeing is like, or changing siphon pumps in the middle of the night," Lee said.
His brothers smiled and nodded.
Daniel Uhruh, 28, who works a small walnut operation in Princeton, said he once worked row crops in GPS-outfitted "auto-steer" vehicles.
"These days, you can just sit back and push the button," he said. "I once slept from one end of a field to the other in one of those. The monitor woke me up when I got to the other side."
Automated steering, said Steve Francis, 37, of LaserMan Inc. of Oroville, ensures that a farmer won't go over the same territory more than once with the same equipment.
"It helps save fuel," he said. "There's no overlaps."
The "programmable shake systems" Matthew Coe helped showcase on Thursday feature a telescoping device that clamps tree trunks or limbs one at a time, shakes the crops loose, retracts, then sweeps the product out of the way to spare destruction as the vehicle moves on.
But newfangled equipment still doesn't define the work of farming, according to Uhruh.
"A farm's only as valuable as the guys running it," he said.
In the land of working toys
Aiden Claridge, 4, enjoyed the Colusa Farm Show just as much the second time around.
The Williams resident had been here in the land of giant working toys on Wednesday with his mom, and his preschool class from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school.
On Thursday, he visited again with his mother, his baby sister and his grandmother.
"Well, I really like some of this equipment," he explained, in a serious, John Wayne tone.
Aiden continued working on a tri-tip sandwich. Barbecue sauce clung to his lip like a mustache.
He furrowed his brows and turned his head slightly for effect.
The model tractor display and a real John Deere tractor that pulled cart loads of children were among his favorite farm show features, he said. His mother, Amy Claridge, 36, tried to suppress a chuckle.
"He's trying to talk with a deep grownup voice," she said.
"Yes," Aidan said. "I like to talk like a grownup."
His dad, an Army man, he explained, had not been able to attend the show this week.
"He fights for the red, white and blue," he said.
Good prices abound for California farm products
Capital investment has been scarce in most industries through the recession. But the three-day Colusa Farm Show attracted more than just window shoppers.
"There's a lot of serious buyers," said Jeni Carriere-LaDuke, 34, grower relations manager for Carriere Family Farms. "Ag is booming right now, so everyone's in a good mood,"
Her family's walnut, rice and olive enterprises all are doing well, she said Thursday.
Overseas markets, spurred especially by development in China, have helped fetch good prices for California farm products.
"It's been such a good 5-10 years for everybody," she said, glancing around at vendor booths — still busy just a few hours before the end of the show. "They're all looking to invest."
Princeton farmer Daniel Uhruh, 28, was shopping for compost spreader with his father-in-law.
The Lee brothers of Yuba City and Colusa were checking out the latest and greatest harvesting equipment for walnuts and stone fruit trees.
They recently purchased a used shaker for their custom harvest operation.
"But we're seeing what's new for this year," said Derrek Lee, 41.
Matthew Coe of COE Orchard Equipment, Inc. said the little company his father started in 1970 in Live Oak now is a $20 million-a-year business.
Much of the boom occurred in the last 10 years, Coe said, when they found a market overseas for their machines.
Exports now make up 20 percent of COE sales, he said.
The machinery market reflects the market in farm products, Coe said.
"At the moment, California's crops have very good value. They're getting the highest prices," he said. "And that means they (farmers) are willing to buy more machines."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack