Oxbo commemerated the opening of its Bakersfield location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 30. From left: Gabriel Giesick, regional sales manager; Robert Huckaby, president - fruit division; Corey Venable, director of sales and marketing -fruit. (Photo: Natalie Willis/Valley Ag Voice)

Oxbo’s tech solutions aim to mitigate agricultural labor challenges.

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

Oxbo, a global farm machinery and equipment company, opened its new Bakersfield location on April 30, further extending its reach in the Central Valley and promising a close partnership with Kern County customers. The company now holds six locations in California and has been established internationally, including but not limited to Europe and Brazil.

Equipment is primarily geared toward the specialty crop industry and, over the past 60 years, Oxbo has become a staple in specialty harvesting and controlled application technology. In 2023, Oxbo expanded this portfolio through the acquisitions of H&S Manufacturing and Westside Equipment Co.

The acquisition of Westside Equipment — a Central Valley manufacturer for specialty crops in Madera, Crows Landing, Woodland, and Five Points — was dually designed to deepen Oxbo’s presence in California and expand its fruit division.

According to Regional Sales Manager Gabriel Giesick, opening a location in Bakersfield is a natural progression of the company’s goals in serving farmers in both northern and southern California.

“Thirty to forty percent of the pistachios harvested are south of the Tulare line, and we were ill-served and underserved down here in Kern County, so we needed to be where the farmers are to take care of them,” Giesick said.

Before its acquisition, Westside Equipment had acquired Vmech — a vineyard mechanization manufacturer in Fresno. In its current portfolio, Oxbo supplies harvesters and specialty equipment for berry, coffee, grape, olive, pistachio, and tomato growers.

Oxbo, uniquely, is described as a one-stop shop for farmers to pick up parts, receive service, and add new purchases to their fleet. No dealer is mediating between the manufacturer and the customer, Giesick explained. From raw steel to the product to the customer, Oxbo is involved in every part of the equipment’s life, including on-site demos and service repairs.

“If something goes wrong with the equipment, the welder who welded it will likely be in the truck with me coming out to fix it. If the electrician has a bad wiring harness, he’ll be in the truck with me driving out to fix it,” Giesick said. “From a farmer’s and a grower’s standpoint, they should know that they’re getting service after the sale and we’re not afraid to take care of what we sell and what we sold because we built it. We’re built farmer tough for farmers.”

Robert Huckaby, president of the Oxbo Fruit Division, echoed this sentiment, explaining that there’s no “middleman” between the maker and the purchaser. This philosophy resulted in the new Bakersfield location — a central point for Kern County growers to receive local support.

“It is the ability to be right here locally because we sell direct, we service direct, we sell parts direct, do all the warranty direct, so we need to be close to the customer…we’re A to Z — once you buy a piece of equipment from us, you don’t have to deal with anybody else,” Huckaby said.

LABOR AND TECHNOLOGY

The primary goal of the Bakersfield location is to reduce the necessity for manual labor. With the cost of agricultural labor on a seemingly continuous incline, growers are looking to technology to keep operations running.

According to Cory Venable, director of sales and marketing for Oxbo’s fruit division, the equipment company is working toward alternative solutions and technologies to limit the amount of manual intervention during harvest.

“If we’re able to cover more ground with less labor, that makes the growers more money. And the challenge to get labor just in general is a big thing,” Venable said.

He explained that their technology is designed for the overall care of the crop to ensure it does not damage softer, specialty crops such as produce.

“Just like if you went out with your hand and picked an individual berry off or an individual tomato, we want to make sure that care, that crop care, is there,” Venable said.

According to a report from UC Davis, the average hourly earnings of the state’s farmworkers received $19.75 in 2022, 12% higher than the U.S. average of $17.55. Coupled with high input costs and rising inflation, the demand for labor remains high, but the likelihood of sustaining the cost is dismal.

Oxbo’s solution employs a ‘less is more’ strategy wherein the technology increases the yield and bottom-line input cost to the grower. Instead of hiring several workers, only a few highly skilled operators are required, Giesick explained.

Equipped with Artificial Intelligence, Oxbo’s machinery uses sensing technologies to make machine adjustments as well as sorting capabilities to differentiate between the good, the bad, and the ugly.

While this results in fewer jobs, it provides for higher-paying jobs that support the industry’s future as technology and AI applications become increasingly prominent. Within the company, Giesick expects several local jobs to be created, such as salesmen, service technicians, administrative assistants, and parts managers.

Technicians will receive on-the-job training through Oxbo University, to prepare them for the field — they are expected to achieve master mechanic status as well as John Deere and Caterpillar certification.

During harvest season, Oxbo’s team will operate a 24/7 service to growers to help meet any potential demands or setbacks.

“Even if you have a piece of equipment that breaks down at one o’clock in the morning, we will send out mechanics,” Huckaby said. “These guys don’t have time to wait on Friday night. They don’t have time to wait for somebody to open up on a Monday morning. So that’s why we do that. We have mechanics that are on rotation. We have parts guys that are on rotation, so we cover you 24/7 during that harvest interval.”

FUTURE INITIATIVES

Oxbo plans to extend its reach further in the Central Valley and farther south, Huckaby explained. Presently, the company is expanding further to southern regions such as San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties.

In Bakersfield, Oxbo partnered with Cal State University, Bakersfield, and plans to further research initiatives into the needs of specialty crop growers. According to Huckaby, the Oxbo team strives to anticipate the future of growers’ needs and is constantly working on the next generation of equipment and technology.

“If you look at our engineering pipeline, we already have plans of what harvesters we’re going to bring to the market in 2028,” Huckaby said. “We’re doing our research now and, whether or not it’s auto-sensing and GPS-driven and autoloaders and things of that nature, it’s stuff that we’re working on so that we know that we can put it on this new generation piece of equipment that’s going to come out two, three, four years from now.”

As the business grows, Huckaby expects to engage local vendors to further enhance Oxbo’s technology and equipment offerings.

“Bakersfield has some great vendors being such, I mean, they’re either typically number one or number two in the state as far as the county production-wise,” Huckaby said. “So, there are a lot of great resources [and] we’ll be working with those customers here, locally, or those vendors here locally.”

The new Oxbo location is open and can be found at 9323 Enos Lane, Bakersfield, CA 93314.

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