2023 Expo shines light on import, export issues

World Ag Expo held Feb. 14-16, shows plethora of technological advancements in ag industry, hold seminars on international trade, California water

TULARE – The 2023 World Ag Expo had a better than expected turn out this year as Tulare continues to welcome the world in a post COVID era.

According to Jennifer Fawkes, marketing manager for the International Agri-Center, the expo as a whole was well attended, especially with more international individuals than last year. She said food booths even ran out of food. The seminars were also well attended covering topics from international trade, water in California, to women in ag and technology. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy made an appearance on opening day to express his appreciation for the Central Valley, farmers and the agriculture they produce.

“When I look around the World Ag Expo, I see hard working Americans – I see my neighbors, I see people who meticulously till the ground, tend their orchards, and make art,” McCarthy, who represents the southern Valley said. “I am proud to be a Speaker from the Central Valley, and I am committed to working in a bipartisan fashion to empower our agricultural producers who feed the world.”

In the seminars held on international trade, panelists’ discussed the trials and tribulations that have plagued the transportation industry since the covid pandemic. It included all the baggage that comes with the shipping issues and ways of discovering a new normal. Some of the seminars were on international goods, others on water and irrigation and dairy and livestock and many more. 

Three panelists discussed California Agriculture Exporting Opportunities and Hurdles;  Mike Kelly, president and CEO of Central California Almond Growers Association; Richard Motian, president of American Pistachio Growers Association; and Tracey Chow, Growers Association Industry relations manager for Western Growers. Together the three each gave their input from their industries on how trade works with their product, how new trade issues have impacted them and what it is looking like in the future.

Photo by Kenny Goodman

Almond and pistachio growers experience similar things in both production, growth over the years and international trade. Kelly said the almond industry has been struggling in certain areas of production, one being the dairy industry is not doing well. It could seem strange that the dairy industry has any effect on almond harvesters, but actually, he said the majority of their revenue comes from the dairy industry.

“Believe it or not most of our revenue actually comes from the dairy industry,” Kelly said. “About 85% of our revenue is derived from the hulls and the shells that are used in the dairy ration and they’ve become more prominent.”

According to Kelly’s presentation, in 2014, there were 1,781,000 cows in California, but in 2022 there were 1,723,000 cows. In addition to that loss, there is also a new Federal Milk Marketing Order, that helps the industry but makes costs higher. Not to mention, methane digesters and other regulations are also becoming more of a challenge for dairymen around the Valley. As a result, some dairymen are leaving the industry because of it. With that being said, it is possible that in the future, the almond industry could hurt more from higher volumes of dairies closing their gates. The fewer cows to eat the hulls, the lower the revenue is for almond farmers.

However, the dairy industry is not the almond farmers’ only problem. Almonds, like pistachios, receive the majority of their revenue from exports according to Motian. According to his presentation, 65% of California grown pistachios are exported, similar to almonds who sit at 68%. Of the top 15 exported commodities, almonds sit at the top of the list, followed by dairy products and pistachios sitting in third most exported. In 2021, cargo ships were being incentivised and sent back empty from China to the United States, which then created an asymmetrical relationship within US markets. Thus causing problems for  those who rely heavily on exports including both almond and pistachio harvesters. 

The largest ports in California are the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Motian said one of the largest issues with both of those ports is the amount of time it takes to unload one container. According to Ag Transportation Coalition, AgTC, the worldwide average unloading time for one container is 26 seconds, whereas at the LA and Long beach ports, the average is 42 seconds. He said that 40% of what comes into the United States is through Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, proving to be an issue. In worldwide rankings, the three ports put together do not sit high on the list. In order to prepare for other short falls in the pistachio industry, Motian said they must fix the export issue. 

“We have a ways to go in terms of our efficiency and our ability to move product in and to move product out,” Motian said.

Chow explained the issues with imports and exports and how the balance between the two has been thrown off severely in the past five years, mostly in favor of exports. As a result, she said congress passed a maritime shipping reform for the first time in years, that was meant to help rebuild transparency. This reform came after ships were returning to the US empty. However, there are still two main issues; one being the general lack of confidence in the West Coast ports, and the other is not knowing what will come back from importers and exporters.

Throughout the import and export crisis, tree nut products are some of the exports that should weather the storm as they are less perishable than other products like oranges or other fruits. Chow said a new normal needs to be accepted because the import and export markets will not go back to where they were. Not only because of the issues in the past, but also because of some of the new regulations on truckers.

“Given what happened with covid, given all the uncertainties overseas, there’s a lot of interest in the industry and congress in this region around refocusing on domestic expansion and promotion,” Chow said. “There’s a lot of focus around how we bolster up regional supply chains.”

Chow said that is a goal to find different ways to fill the gaps of global expansion and that is where everyone should be thinking. More emphasis needs to be put on expanding trade throughout the United States and less on international trade.


Additionally, loads of people flooded the seminar rooms to learn about California’s water issues in what is known as “water bootcamp.” It was a set of Fresno State sessions taught by Laura Ramos with the California Water Institute. There was a bootcamp on water distribution, groundwater recharge, water rights and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

Each session lasted about 25 minutes and was packed full of information. Ramos explained where water comes from in the sense of dams, rivers and canals. She also explained the difference in who runs each waterway either the federal or state government or a private entity. Ramos also went over different ways of water recharge and why they are useful or important. 

Ramos said there are several types of groundwater recharge systems; naturally through rain, water flows, rivers, unlined canals, crop irrigation, urban landscapes; or artificially through recharge ponds or basins, flood ponds or even subsurface artificial recharge. Ramos explained that a recharge basin is man made basins and filled with excess water that soaks into the ground and recharges the groundwater. The subsurface artificial recharge is even more of a man made process. Excess water is filtered and machinery then pushes that filtered water into the ground to replenish the water supply.

New Products

As individuals from around the globe and all walks of life gathered to learn about the latest in agricultural technologies, they would discover the majority of new technologies are now Artificial Intelligence (AI) style machinery. Of the top ten new product winners, half were fully autonomous, while the others include some sort of ‘smart’ technology. All of the top ten winners are products from California except for the autonomous fruit harvesting system by Tevel, a company from Geder, Israel. Closest to home were the Herbicide GUSS who is manufactured by GUSS Automation LLC in KIngsburg and the Bluewhite Pathfinder by Bluewhite in Fresno. 

The smart herbicide sprayer known as GUSS is a driverless sprayer built with nine sensors designed to detect, target and spot spray weeds on the orchard floor, according to the Ag Expo brochure. The Bluewhite Pathfinder is a fully autonomous orchard or vineyard tractor that can spray, disc, mow and harvest. It also uses multiple sensors, cameras and other technologies to navigate throughout the crop.

Other top ten winners include the BeeHome by Beewise from Oakland Calif. According to the Ag Expo brochure, BeeHome automatically detects threats to a honeybee colony. It serves as a surveillance and treatment for the bees without any human interaction. Another top ten winner was a smaller machine called Burro with Bitwise Agronomy. It is a “superhuman crop scouting” machine that helps farmers evaluate their crop by using artificial intelligence. And many others not included in the top ten list.

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