Over 1,500 registered attendees, representing a cross section of the state's agribusiness manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and dealers of cropping equipment and products, had a lot to look at and absorb during the recent Wisconsin Crop Management Conference and Trade Show.
The two-day event (the 51st annual) held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison last week featured the latest in crop improvement products and equipment ranging from seed to specialty fertilizers to liquid fertilizer storage tanks to $300,000 field sprayers.
This is a show where the attendees come from the organizations that provide the products, services and programs that crop farmers use. It's here one will find the agronomists, consultants and dealers learning about the new products and technology that crop farmers will consider buying.
The fact that agriculture is ever-changing and changing at a rapid pace was readily apparent (and emphasized) in the exhibits and 54 seminars offered over the two-and-a-half days.
The conference is sponsored by the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association. (WAGA), University of Wisconsin Extension and the UW-Madison College of Ag & Life Sciences.
Tom Bressner, WABA executive director calls it just one of the organizations many efforts to serve Wisconsin agribusinesses.
Not everyone likes the idea of big farms raising genetically modified crops on land tilled with high-tech equipment controlled by precision farming technologies keyed to global satellite guidance systems. But, that's the way much of the crop farming in the US is done today and why we all eat so well and so much.
Most certainly even the best of farmers of the 1940s would be in awe of - but probably not shocked - by today's farming systems his offspring are now using.
Grand dad farmed during the time, say 60 years ago, when farmers were proud of there independence and ability to do most everything by themselves with little outside help.
The horses were harnessed and hitched to the wagon or cultivator and if the leather reins or tugs broke, a sharp knife and rivet machine came into play.
When the wagon tongue or neck yoke broke, the farmer fashioned a new one or bought one at the hardware store. Even when the tractor needed repair, the farmer could replace a simple part and away he went.
Seed corn was bought in a cloth bag (later a paper bag), hauled to the field and poured into the seed boxes of the two-row planter and the fertilizer was dumped in the twin metal containers.
The check wire, used to allow cross cultivation, was repairable and the planter plates lasted forever.
Weed control was rudimentary: a horse-drawn mower, hand scythe or kids pulling by hand and insect control was a hanging fly strip in the barn and milkhouse and a fly swatter in the house.
Farm life was simple but labor intensive and the work got done because fields were small and crop yields were meager prior to the advent of hybrid corn, vernal alfalfa and advanced genetics in all crops.
During World War II, DDT was used to eliminate disease-causing insects world wide as the photos of GI's and refuges being doused with the product attest.
After the war, farmers wanted to use the product along with the miracle weed killer 24-D and a long list of new chemicals developed to control weeds, bugs and soil diseases.
Then technology set in - the date I use for reference is right after World War II - when DDT and 24-D were made available to farmers and hybrid corn became readily available.
One of the problems was that there were few commercial pesticide sprayers available. A popular 1948 book Farm Machinery and Equipment, listed a variety of hand sprayers and two engine-powered sprayers for orchards. Neither was suited for row crops like corn.
So, farmers began making their own using sheet metal or 55-gallon barrels. a few lengths of pipe and nozzles attached to the tractor. The whole rig cost maybe $150 and on a good day with hard work, the farmer could spray 60 acres.
The rest is history: Every year we have new seeds, more exotic fertilizers, ever more complicated farming programs, computerization at every level, and of course the new machines to apply fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Even more challenging are the concerns for human safety and the rules and regulations that go with them.
The complicated technology used to farm successfully today demands knowledge and expertise on the part of farmers - more than they can possibly provide. Thus farmers must work hand in hand with manufacturers, marketers, government, regulators, enforcement agencies and the public.
That's where education comes in, not always classrooms in schools, more often at farm meetings where those who supply inputs to farming educate the technology users.
Ever since, the equipment, products and technology has gotten more refined, precise, complicated and expensive. No longer must the county agent conduct sprayer calibration schools for farmers or demonstrate how to take soil samples.
There are experts to do that: The fertilizer dealers, crop consultants and specialists of many kinds. It's not just about taking a few soil samples, it's about taking samples and using them to develop a total nutrient management plan.
Bill Stangel is a professional agricultural consultant with his Madison-based Soil Solutions Consulting firm.
He works with a limited number of crop farms in gathering data, making a cropping management plan and working with the producer to carry out the plan in spite of the weather, disease, insects and weeds that might happen during the year.
The modern crop sprayer today will have a 120-foot boom, cover 1000 acres a day rather easily and will apply chemicals measured in ounces or fractions of ounces put on so as to reduce drift outside of where it's intended and the operator will be licensed and certified by DATCP.
Most of the agronomists working with farmers are Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) who have been certified by the American Society of Agronomy.
The CCA program requires testing and continuing education (offered at the Crop Management Conference) provides a benchmark for practicing agronomy professionals in the US and Canada.
For sure, farming today is a long way from the horse, plow and hard work of grand dad's day. lt's more about technology, education, listening, learning and managing for success - which means making a profit to stay in business.
The annual Crop Management Conference and the WABA offer some of the wherewithal to do that.
The result is food to feed all of America. Food of many kinds, always on the supermarket shelf, when we want it and how we want it. Most folks think that's pretty good.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.