By Tim Linden
New technology in the ag equipment space is at the forefront of Pacific Ag Rental’s current thinking. The company is a farmer-owned co-op tractor rental business, headquartered in Salinas, CA, with branches in six other California cities, as well as Yuma, AZ. The company’s goal since it was founded by Bart Walker almost two decades ago has been to provide agricultural tractors and implements to the vegetable and fruit/nut growers of the western United States. It came from humble beginnings as Walker was working at a local tractor dealership in 2001 and believed that there was a need for a rental program that was user friendly. He and his father, Charlie, who had 30 years in the tractor rental industry, acquired some investment capital and bought their first few tractors. Today’s rental fleet is comprised of more than 4,000 pieces of equipment from more than a dozen brands and is operating in five states and Mexico.
It’s latest initiative involves adding the newest technology to its fleet. “Technology is a new frontier within agriculture and Pacific Ag Rental (PAR) has been vetting new technologies for the last five years to find the best ones for farmers to use, right now,” Walker said. “A lot of technology promises to do a lot more in the near future, but what resonates most with farmers is what can technology do for me right now, today, not tomorrow.”
For example, the company is currently renting an automated weeder called the Robovator. “Technology continues to change, and the technology three years from now will be better than the technology we have today, which is the main reason farmers are renting technology instead of purchasing it,” Walker said.
He notes that a lot has changed in the past five years and the technology space continues to evolve. “Five years ago, we were all new to technology in agriculture and with the recent introduction of neural networks and advance AI (artificial intelligence) we are now able to move much faster than we have in the past. I really like what I see on the horizon for farmers and look forward to having PAR vet these technologies and partner with inventors to help them deploy and support their cost saving products throughout the marketplace,” Walker said. “Some farmers are anxious about getting involved with technology but we are helping them through the process and in the end, PAR is helping the farmer save money and offering them the option to deploy their limited labor resources to other areas of their farm.”
Walker explained the company is currently working with a technology to develop a telematics system that can be used on all equipment platforms, across all brands, makes and models. He said telematics packages that allow the farmer to view statistics about their equipment including such data points as fuel usage, time utilization, break times, engine efficiency, location, speed, engine parameters and even powertrain problems are great if everything you have is from one manufacturer. He said PAR has been working with Trimble on a proof of concept for the last year to develop a telematics package under one dashboard allowing the farmer to view and monitor data points on their tractors, booster pumps, water trucks, and whatever else they want to track. “We are currently in Stage 3 of our testing and have about 150 Pulse Telematics units deployed at this time. It is providing a great view of the working farm in one convenient dashboard.”
The company is always looking at other equipment to add to its arsenal such as automatic harvesting equipment, but Walker said “a great replacement for the human eye” has yet to be found. “I think the next thing we need to automate is harvesting, but it is much easier said than done. PAR has envisioned a pathway for a complete automation process from planting to harvesting but the technology to provide those functions is not available as of today or are too slow to be considered viable,” he said. “PAR would enjoy working with someone on this project if the needed funds could be acquired for the R&D.”
Walker believes the company is well suited to help the industry develop technologically-advanced equipment. “We see a lot of different types of crops, different methods of working the soil, unique strategies of growing the crop and other problem solving ideas which provides PAR with a greater knowledge base of how to approach challenges in different areas, in different crops, and PAR can draw on that knowledge base when challenges arise and offer up possible alternatives. We enjoy the connections, friendships, and partnerships we have created through Western Growers and we feel PAR can provide unique services to the farming community through those connections.”
He believes Pacific Ag Rentals can provide a springboard for the inventors at Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology allowing them a pathway to the customer. “We are open in our thinking and believe that in order for technology to permeate agriculture, ideas will have to come from numerous sources without the technology belonging to one entity,” he said. “All boats rise with a rising tide and we at Pacific Ag Rentals are doing our best to help in that process.”
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