Another Wisconsin Farm Technology Days has come and gone and the parking lots (hay fields) at Breezy Hill Dairy in Barron County are empty and the alfalfa can recover and begin growing again.
I attended only one day (Wednesday) this year in contrast to my usual two days (my wife is still recovering from back surgery). That was an absolutely perfect day weather wise - 80 degrees and low humidity - and I thought the crowd was rather big in numbers. I entered the gate at about 9:30 a.m. and with a big crowd wound my way through the turnstiles.
Congratulations to Barron County, which did a great job of getting cars (and people) in and out of the grounds. I've relayed the complaints of exhibitors and attendees at some past shows about the confusion and chaos in entering, parking and leaving some of these big events - last year was especially bad - but this year the traffic flowed like melted butter off a hot pancake.
On approaching the show in the morning, I ran into a line of cars about a mile out but never had to stop. The line kept going at 20-30 mph and flowed right into the parking area through two entrances.
I left the grounds at about 4:45 p.m. just before closing time, expecting the usual mess of cars going every which way trying to get out of the field. Didn't happen. I made one simple run out of the gate onto the road and didn't stop except to take a picture of (and talk with) Barron County Deputy Sheriff Curtis Arnold, county motor officer, who was directing traffic alongside his motorcycle.
Yes, motorcycle. Arnold said he's had it since May and was one of the first county officers in the state to use one, although the State Patrol also has one. "We (Barron County) have about 20 officers at Farm Tech Days," Arnold says. "In addition there about that many from surrounding forces."
Whatever, the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days officials, committees and law enforcement people did to make for an easy in and out, they knew what to do and did it right.
That goes for the whole event - where ever one looked there was someone wearing a bright lime-yellow tee shirt ready to answer questions or assist. Congrats to Barron County!
Audrey Kusilek, executive committee chairperson (and dairy farmer), summarized: "Organizers of this year's Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Barron County were extremely pleased with how the show turned out this year and attendees, exhibitors and volunteers were all very positive."
"We couldn't have done this without the help of all the people (in the many hundreds) who gave up their time to serve as volunteers," Kusilek continued. "We don't have final attendance numbers yet, but we estimate that over 40,000 people came through the gates this week."
I don't know Kusilek personally, although she tells me we met briefly at the show (I talked with her via phone on Friday) but her show summary of an "estimate of 40,000 attendees" sounds like a very honest figure in contrast to the inflated crowd numbers often given out on this show. (Remember when estimates of 100,000 were common?)
I've attended many of the Wisconsin Farm Progress/Technology Days and could never figure out where the inflated crowd figures came from. Kusilek explained Barron Countys' approach: "We looked at how much food was eaten at past shows and from that knew how many people were there - we didn't think they brought their own lunch or went hungry."
Were the five big Agri-business exhibit tents different this year? I thought so and when several exhibitors commented that they thought maybe the tents they were in seemed a lot brighter and cooler this year, I said I'd find out. (Note: None of us were sure when the white tents were introduced.)
A call to Briggs Tent & Party Rental at Eau Claire, which supplied all the tents at Farm Technology Days for seven years, confirms that those tents were indeed all white this year - as were pretty much all the tents throughout "tent city."
"It started with the Marshfield show three years ago when one of the 40-foot wide, dark color tents blew down," company manager Roger Briggs says. "We put in an emergency 80-foot, white tent. Last year we put in a few more. This year we went to 80-foot wide, white tents for all five of the big agribusiness locations. Actually there were three translucent tents that let a lot of light in and two "Block-out tents that let in less light but kept heat out." Briggs said that most all of the tents at "tent city" were white in color this year.
I felt deprived this year with only one day at the show. It's hard to view 60 acres of tent city while talking to a lot of people. I do know that the five big agribusiness exhibit tents were very crowded and the outside midways seemed to be well populated. Maybe most important, the exhibitors I talked with were well pleased with the numbers of buyers and lookers.
New and different
The subject of crop conditions was popular and I asked a good many farmers about their status. There was no consistency: Quite a few had lost alfalfa to winter kill; some corn was replanted or never got in the ground; many had wais-t or chest-high corn. All had made provisions for a feed supply.
"Just call the crops 'spotty'," a couple of dairymen suggested. "Low ground is one way, high ground another, but we'll get by."
As always, I try to find new or different things on display or things I know little or nothing about. The rather large exhibit by K&M Manufacturing of Renville, MN, caught my eye. The display featured tractor seats, something as a non-tractor owner, I'd never much thought about.
The company was founded in 1958 by Marvin Molder and Nick Kleinhuzen - thus the K&M name - who obviously saw a need and a niche. Kleinhuzen left the company early on. It was owned and operated by the Molder family since 1958 until sold in 2010 to the Kotula family and its Great Northern Equipment Co.
K&M Manufacturing has grown from its origins of repairing tractor seats and providing simple toolboxes to offer more than 3,500 including tractor seats, tractor cab interiors, steps, rails, lights and accessories. From the number of people who visited the exhibit during the brief time I was there, it's apparent that tractor seats are a popular item. "My tractor seat is ripped, dirty and falling apart," a potential buyer explained. "It's time I got a new one."
The company has an elaborate catalog and its products are sold at many farm equipment dealerships - now I know.
The Claas of America display seemed to always have a crowd around it with people looking at the big choppers. "Why so many people looking at a very specialized piece of equipment," I asked Ryan Cairns, division support manager. "They all want to buy one or two," he said with a laugh. "I guess they are big and shiny and people are curious."
Claas equipment is used by many custom operators who cover a lot of acreage Cairns added. The list price runs from about $450,000 to $750,000. A retired farmer, who took a long look at one of the machines, turned away muttering to his companion, "That thing costs more than my whole farm."
"Farming has changed a bit over the years," I commented while remember using the five-foot Allis All Crop Harvester as a kid. "Yup," the old farmer said. "We sure worked hard."
As I was leaving the grounds, I ran into Steve Fronk, Rice Lake, who is a dairy consultant for Sci-Tech Premixes out of Stewart, MN. We reminisced about the days when Steve had the highest production dairy herd in Wisconsin - some 45 cows in the 1990s at Hillsboro.
Steve said he had a lot to do with getting Wisconsin Farm Technology Days to Barron County. It was a great idea I told him, half the people in southern Wisconsin don't even know that this part of Wisconsin is such a great dairy area.
It's a long trip from my Madison office to Barron County, about 220 miles. My guess is that the big crowds this year were made up of ag folks who can't often make the long trip to World Dairy Expo or the WPS Farm Show at Oshkosh and came out in force to this event.
So it goes ... in the 60 years of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, there's there is something for everyone one and never an exhibit featuring a product or service that didn't emphasize saving labor, doing it faster and better, saving money or doing it easier. That's farming and life!
This year's show was the final one for Ron Schuler, who is retiring as the WFTD general manager this summer. "This was a great way to wrap up a fine career," he noted. "Barron County put on a great show and the weather was nearly perfect during the final two days."
Next year Wisconsin Farm Technology Days moves to Plover in Portage County, where vegetable farming will be featured Aug. 12-14. Then it's on to Dane County and in 2016 to Walworth County.
I do hope the event continues moving from county to county rather than moving to a central site as is sometimes discussed. The benefits to the host county are many and great.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at email@example.com.