It was shoulder to shoulder people in the trade show area of the recent Wisconsin Corn/Soy Expo held in Wisconsin Dells. Even when the educational seminars were in session, there were a good many farmers visiting the commercial exhibits.
A sampling of the 95 commercial exhibitors brought forth the repeated comments that this was indeed a "happy and upbeat" crowd in spite of the drought that impacted many southern Wisconsin corn and soy bean growers.
Early estimates were that there were over 1,500 attendees at this year's event co-hosted by the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin Pork Association, the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association. and the Wisconsin corn Promotion Board and Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board.
Nancy Kavazanjian, Beaver Dam, coordinator of the event (and also a big time grain farmer) for the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, said that this is the eighth year the event has been held in the Dells with each year drawing a bigger attendance.
"We filled the entire hotel," Kavazanjian says. "All the exhibit space was full - we have a waiting list and could use a few more meeting rooms. It was great."
Not many years ago, these groups held separate annual gatherings and I remember the sparse crowds, not any more, what with the larger array of speakers and bigger trade show.
Certainly the fact that the event is held at the Kalahari Convention Center with its water park and amusements appealing to spouses and youngsters makes it a family affair. "This has become our midwinter family getaway," a corn grower from southeastern Wisconsin says. "It means a two-day business trip and a family vacation.
How could it be a "happy crowd" when so many corn and soybean growers had short crops due to the drought, one might ask?
A half dozen farmers explained this to me in no uncertain terms during a cookie and coffee break.
"It's amazing what $7 corn can do for a farmer's emotions," one farmer explained. "Even with a short crop, this year was better than the many years of $2-$3 corn we suffered through when about all the money we made came from government programs, which none of us really liked." His fellow farmers nodded in agreement.
"Yes, and anyone who has been farming very long, has gone through a drought or some other misfortune," another farmer said. "Not every year can be perfect and give use 200 bushel crops."
"Just think what the year would have been without the more drought resistant corn we plant today," a third farmer said. "Thirty years ago we would have had no crop at all and the corn genetics is getting better every year."
Although I've heard that some companies are breeding extreme drought resistant corn, I didn't think it was yet in common use so I called neighbor Jeff Renk of Renk Seeds, Sun Prairie, for some explanation.
Renk said that the new drought resistant seed is not yet on the market, but that corn genetics have improved greatly over the years including resistance to drought. The fact that corn is bred with traits resulting in insecticide and weed resistance is a major factor in corn being better able to survive in drought periods.
"Low till cultivation is also an important water conservation management factor," Renk says. "However, in 2012 corn planted following corn was more seriously affected by the drought."
What about the availability of seed corn this spring? That's a common question farmers are asking.
The several corn companies I talked with at the Corn/Soy Expo agreed they will try their best to supply farmer requests.
Boyd Hoffman, Oostburg, regional sales manager for Dairyland Seed said the drought affected most seed companies production to some extent. "It's possible not all varieties will be available all the time, especially if farmers want to change their order close to planting season," he says.
In past years talk of crop insurance at this gathering of corn and soybean growers was low key, not this year - the subject seemed to be on everyone's mind.
"Some farmers saw their premiums as 'wasted money' when they got a good crop and no return on the insurance," a marketer says. "It's like life insurance, you don't get paid until you die, then it comes in handy for your family."
"Crop insurance is almost a requirement for anyone borrowing money," Bob Panzer, of Verity Resources, Cottage Grove says. "Many farmers make the mistake of not buying enough crop insurance by not considering input costs - they should have 80-85 percent coverage."
Randy Zimmerman, who farms some 1200 acres of corn, beans, wheat and alfalfa at Belleville, is a long time believer in crop insurance. "We go at least 85 percent coverage with revenue and yield protection," he says. "You just must do it today."
The commercial exhibitors told me that farmers were in a looking and buying mood the last month or two of 2012. Some saw tax advantages, some wanted to buy ahead.
"You'd be surprised how much money there is around," an equipment dealer professed. "Although the media kept talking drought, drought - much of the state had a decent crop year.
As with most farm meetings farmers tell me that the biggest reason they attend is to talk to each other. "My information from other farmers is probably the most important thing in my buying decisions," a southern Wisconsin farmer says. "This is the place to get a lot of opinions.
The Wisconsin Corn/Soy Expo was a big success as farmers and their suppliers asked, listened, learned and enjoyed and that's the whole idea.
It also points out the gradual move of major farm meetings from Madison to the Wisconsin Dells where the family can splash in the water inside heated buildings while it's below zero outside. What could be better.
When's the last time you heard the national media talk about farming in almost unanimous positive terms and in a glowing fashion?
Maybe never, until the "So God Made a Farmer" commercial ran in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. I wasn't paying much attention until I heard the familiar voice of Paul Harvey boom out with "And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, 'I need a caretaker."' So God made a farmer..."
After two minutes of Paul's persuasive voice over a series of farm-based photos, a small "Ram" truck logo appeared identifying the sponsor.
I knew Paul Harvey had died in 2009 so the words had to have come from out of the past - and they did.
They were part of his speech to the National FFA convention in 1978 held in Kansas City. No, he didn't write them, they came from an unsigned letter he had received.
But, they were most powerful and appropriate and someone at Dodge should be proud of airing them during the Super Bowl - no sex, no violence, no car crashes, no dancers or twisted TV electronics. Just barns, animals and farmers.
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.