Field demos and sessions were a key part of FIRA USA, which brought ag robotics industry and growers together Sept. 19-21 in Salinas, California. Photos by Doug Ohlemeier.

Dec 2, 2023
FIRA USA demos, exhibits give growers close-up views of new tech

Allowing growers to watch the latest AgTech products operate in the field was a big part of FIRA USA.

Through demonstrations and static displays at the Sept. 19-21 event in Salinas, California, technology providers focusing on agriculture showed off a variety of automated and smart technologies, including driverless vehicles, robotic weeders, laser weeders, smart sprayers and autonomous mowers.

Mock vineyards and orchards helped companies demonstrate their products. Photos by Doug Ohlemeier.

Manufacturers operated equipment in vegetable plots and maneuvered the implements in a mock vineyard and a block of potted trees in rows set up to replicate an orchard on the Salinas Sports Complex grounds.

“We have a lot of great technology out here,” said David Kahn, sales and demo manager for Monarch, which demonstrated an autonomous electric tractor. “What it boils down to is serving the farming community. We are living in some special times.”

The new technology allows growers to do more than drive tractors. Implements are becoming smarter. Attachments provide growers more efficiencies in planting, spraying, fertilizing and other tasks.

“The future is all about smart implements,” said Tim Bucher, CEO of Agtonomy, a San Francisco autonomous and AI software and services company. “The tractors are becoming smart. As there are only so many tractor manufacturers, where the real innovation is happening is around implements, and being able to do all kinds of new things. They’re now doing a more efficient job.”

Smart toolbars, for example, do not require human adjustment. The implements controlled by the toolbar are more efficiently and accurately performing functions including cultivating.

Autonomy requires the ability to guide a vehicle through perception systems, which have exponentially improved in the last five years, said Mike Dentinger, director of ag OEM development at Trimble, a Westminster, Colorado, technology company working in agriculture, construction and transportation. Trimble worked with Western Growers in automation and modularity.

FIRA USA feature robotic education sessions, panels, displays and demonstrations to showcases technology and its possibilities in vineyards, orchards, fields and beyond.

“There are things coming out in the market that are most common modules that could be used across multiple applications,” he said. “We’re still kind of early on that curve. But everything I see is going in the right direction.”

Technology providers lauded the show.

“Of the many shows I’ve attended, this one, by far, is the best,” said Matt Phillips, in sales with SeedSpider, a Santa Maria, California, robotic seeding and weeding technology provider. “With all the demos and displays, it’s a really good show because customers see the equipment working. They don’t just get to look at it. And vendors get feedback.”

The meeting of growers and tech people can help adoption.

“It’s great to see the community here and hear the good session talks,” said Steven Saunders, CEO and founder of Robotics Plus. “Startups need adoption, they need to get engaged. It’s important we see more adoption happening. With the costs and scarcity of labor becoming more real, we’re having to see more adoption happening as the pain points become real.”

FIRA USA attracted 80 exhibitors, including technology companies exhibiting their latest drone advancements and services. The technologies also included precision crop applications, controlling pests with lights, pollination technology and other autonomous vehicles allowing growers to better manage orchards and vineyards.

Along with grower and technology supplier sessions, a group of venture capital startups presented their pitches to potential investors.

The 2024 show is scheduled for the Sacramento, California, area.

— Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor

Top photo: Field demos and sessions were a key part of FIRA USA, which brought ag robotics industry and growers together Sept. 19-21 in Salinas, California.


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