FTD worth nearly $2 million to county economy
When Outagamie County hosts the state’s largest farm show, July 17-19 at Sugar Creek Farm near New London, the event will be worth an estimated $1.8-$2 million in economic impact — but it will also be an opportunity for state farmers and agribusiness people to get to know a prime agriculture county.
Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson notes that agriculture constitutes $3 billion worth of the county’s sales and is a big contributor to the overall state agricultural economy with thriving farms of all sizes dotting the landscape of the county.
During an interview at Media Day at the Tent City site in June, Nelson said that Outagamie County is the state’s sixth largest in population and contributes twice as much toward the state’s agricultural economy as the average county in the state — so it combines urban and rural interests.
Dairy farming is the county’s largest agricultural industry and agriculture is the backbone of much of the county’s economy, he added.
One of the state’s largest dairy farms, Tidy View Dairy, operated by Milk Source, has 6,800 cows in the county. That’s the spot where the original dairy farm that became Milk Source began in 1965 with 30 cows.
The county is also home to Milk Source Genetics, the show cow barn with about 100 cows along with genetically superior heifers and calves.
Though the county is also home to Appleton and the Fox Cities, farmers own 61 percent of the land in the county and economic activity generated by agriculture produces $58 million in state and local taxes, Nelson noted.
Outagamie County is among the top 50 dairy producing counties in the nation and is also the top sauerkraut producing county in the country. Because of the large sauerkraut plant in Bear Creek, the county is also the largest cabbage producing county in the state.
AGRICULTURE IS ECONOMIC BACKBONE
Vic Grimm, chairman of the executive committee for the Outagamie County show, said that agriculture is a massive part of the county’s economy.
“We’re thought of as an urban county, but everything we deal with links back to agriculture,” he told Wisconsin State Farmer. The many sponsors that have lined up to help put on the show realize that “they all have a stake in agriculture,” he added.
Agribusiness affects cheese companies, dairies, food processors, banking institutions, trucking companies engaged to haul farm commodities and even construction companies in the county that get hired to build everything from free stall barns to processing facilities, he said.
Grimm, who has volunteered his time along with the other committee members for the last three years, is head of corporate quality control for Agropur (formerly Trega Foods) and its 27 cheese plants.
Farm Technology Days will offer visitors a chance to see a showcase of the county’s innovation for the future of farming, for agribusiness and for related industries, he said.
The event — when it was still called Farm Progress Days — was previously held in Outagamie County in 1981 when it was hosted by Richard, Helen and Terry Van Epern.
The group of volunteers has been working for more than three years to organize all the details that go into the creation of the massive event near New London.
Grimm said he had been to other shows in the past but until he was involved as a volunteer he didn’t realize just how much work it takes to get the show going.
Hotel rooms throughout the Fox Cities will be full during the three-day outdoor farm show, with more than 15,000 people estimated to attend each day along with about 600 exhibitors.
The money people spend at hotels and local restaurants and other businesses is likely to reach near $2 million, county estimates show.
Pam Seidl, marketing director for the Fox Cities Convention and Visitor Bureau, serves on the marketing committee for the Outagamie County Farm Technology Days and notes it will be one of the largest events in the region this summer and will certainly be the largest agricultural event.
“We’re thrilled to be hosting the visitors and proud to show that Outagamie County remains a strong agribusiness region.”
Seidl said estimates are that 4,000 hotel rooms will be filled as visitors throng to the New London area.
FINANCES PART OF PLANNING
The show goes on with a heavy dose of help from the county’s University of Wisconsin Extension staff. Kevin Jarek, the county’s crops, soils and horticulture agent is the executive secretary for the show.
Jarek said one of the challenges for the Outagamie County show was that planning for it proceeded during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The committee’s presentation to the county board happened in November 2008 when the economy began to tank.
Each year to get the show rolling it needs seed money from the host county and the Outagamie County volunteers were asking their county board for $45,000.
“When we talked to the board, budgets were tight but we proceeded with telling them what they could expect from the show.”
Jarek made multiple trips to county board meetings to answer questions and provide more information about the annual farm show.
Grimm, chairman of the executive committee, said one of the things that the committee made clear to the county board was that any money earned from the show gets pumped back into the community.
Marathon County, which hosted last year’s FTD show, recently reported profits from that show of $192,000. Of that total $92,000 was distributed last fall to nine local non-profit organizations that served food at the show.
Recently the executive committee unanimously voted to award the remaining funds as follows — $20,000 to the NTC Agriculture Center of Excellence; $20,000 to Marathon County Parks for a horse barn project; $40,000 to the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin for FTD scholarships; and $20,000 will be given back to Marathon County as repayment of seed money the county government originally provided.