A TEAM of Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs delegates recently arrived home after a two-week trip in California, inspired to embrace a future of innovative farming technologies.

The 16 delegates began their trip in San Francisco, soaking in the city sights, before embarking on daily outings to meet with farmers and see their businesses at work. First up on their tour was a trip to The McPhee Red Angus Ranch in Lodi, where they learnt about the difficultly in leasing land in the area and how California had eased bureaucracy for farmers by removing animal tagging regulations.

They then paid a visit to the largest single cheese plant in the US – Hilmar Cheese – set up over 30 years ago by 12 different dairying families. Between its Californian and Texan plants, the company produces two million pounds of cheese each day, and the group were given an insight into the innovation and efficiency of the business, ingredients, and hygiene, as well as the owners’ community involvement.

During a tour of Jones Dairy, the group discovered that Californian milk producers face many of the same struggles as farmers in Scotland, with labour shortages meaning that moves towards robotics are becoming more commonplace.

Next up was a visit to the Gemperle hen unit – which caters for five million laying hens – where the delegates learnt about the risk of Avian Influenza from migrating geese from Alaska to Mexico during winter, and how they have introduced organic eggs into supermarkets to develop their business further.

It was then onto Turlock Auction Market where staff couldn’t hide their concerns of poor trade especially for second calvers. While in the Turlock location, the county’s Irrigation District headquarters hosted the SAYFC members, who were shown the lengths gone to in order to replenish groundwater levels, and avoid huge peaks and troughs in the supply of water to farmers.

A highlight from the visit was a tour of the Harris Ranch in Coalinga, home to 111,000 head of grass-reared fattening cattle. Following the process from farm to fork, they began their tour at the finishing beef feedlot, hosting pens of up to 100 cattle each, then visited the slaughterhouse and the on-site restaurant.

Grimmway Farms in the Kern Country hosted SAYFC next, where they grow 50 varieties of crops a year across 12,000 acres. The group were able to witness first-hand the huge scale water recycling required by these large producers and how growing carrots in a three-year rotation with flood irrigation is key for Grimmway to control disease and weeds in their soil.

Improving margins through embracing new technologies was the feature of the next trip to Bowles Farming Company, which operates 12,000 acres of irrigated rowcrop in the Merced country of California. With each employee using a smartphone app to view and complete their daily tasks, connected to sampling machines to read soil pH, organic matter and electricity conductivity – decisions such as applying variables of fertilisers are made easier and more cost efficient.

One way of solving labour shortages has been delivered by Boggiatto Produce, who explained to the group how they use a government run scheme sourcing workers from areas deep into Mexico on six-month contracts, solidifying their company’s workforce for the season. To find out more, you can visit their website:- www.boggiattoproduce.com

Overall, the trip provided a wealth of information and plenty of food for thought for the SAYFC delegates who returned home armed with ideas and stories to share with fellow members and Scotland's farming community.