Announcement delayed by concern about Extension cuts

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            After a lengthier than usual process, Jefferson County has been selected to be next in the lineup of hosts for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. Late last week the county was named as the 2019 host for what is considered to be one of the largest outdoor farm shows in the nation.
The Jefferson County show will be held in July 2019 on a host farm that has yet to be selected. Two counties are already at work on their own version of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days -- Kewaunee County will host its show July 11-13, 2017 and Wood County will hold its own version of the three-day outdoor farm show on July 10-12, 2018.
Laverne Georgson, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent in Jefferson County told Wisconsin State Farmer that the county took more time to get in the lineup because they all wanted to make sure there was sufficient interest and excitement in the county to put on the big show.
“We began with some conversations with Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, Inc. General Manager Matt Glewen last winter and into the spring about hosting the show,” he said. “There was a lot going on at the time, with changes in our own office and the general reorganization of UW-Extension. There were a lot of good reasons to give it due deliberation.”
Georgson did a survey of those involved in agriculture and agri-business in the county during May and June to gauge interest in hosting the show. There was also an open meeting of county officials, farmers and others who might be interested. At that time Glewen gave a presentation on the show and the expectations of host counties. “It was a pretty good cross-section of producers in the county and a lot of the people who would be involved in putting it on.”
The survey, which was sent out to everyone on the county agent’s mailing list, showed a lot of enthusiasm. “There was a lot of encouragement to continue to pursue this,” he said.
County officials, including administrators and elected officials have expressed support for hosting the show. Several farmers have already expressed interest in hosting the show.
Traditionally, the Wisconsin Farm Technology Inc. board’s annual meeting in April marks the time when the next county in the show’s host lineup is announced, but this year there wasn’t one – largely due to the upheaval in UW-Extension, large budget cuts at the University and the uncertainty that meant for county Extension offices.
“Because of all the uncertainty with Extension a lot of counties were hesitant in putting bids in to host the show,” Glewen told Wisconsin State Farmer. “We had to work through that.”
Glewen met with potential organizers in Jefferson County during the process, talking about what is expected of a host county and what’s involved in hosting. “I think one of the concerns in Jefferson County was that they wanted to make sure there was interest among farmers who might want to host. After they worked through the process a bit more, they felt comfortable that there was enough interest.”
The first step will be to organize a county executive committee which will then work through the next steps of selecting and signing a host farm.


Extension changes


            Extension historically has played a huge role in getting the show done each year, with county agents serving as executive secretary of the show each year as it moves from county to county. That’s the way it has worked for over 60 years as the show was first called Farm Progress Days and then Farm Technology Days.
            Counties generally have four years to get their committees set and their fundraising done but Jefferson County will now have a slightly shorter timeline.
            Still, Georgson is happy with the way the process played out. The county had to gauge support and interest in the community and then had to get through the annual County Fair and the Farm Technology Days event this summer in nearby Walworth County. Many Jefferson County locals were involved in that show as well, he said.
            By August, after several more meetings, the county’s Agriculture and Extension Committee was ready to sit down with the county attorney and draft a proposal to host the 2019 show. The County Board gave its unanimous approval.
            “We went through a pretty thorough process, but we wanted to make sure – there are a lot of moving parts – and some of those are beyond our control,” Georgson said. Glewen said that criteria that the Farm Technology Days, Inc. board uses in selecting potential host counties include a strong agricultural presence in the county, location in the state along with proximity of good roads, hotels and restaurant and prior history of hosting the show. The event was last held in Jefferson County in 1984 at the Bernard and Beverly Walter farm near Watertown, when it was still called Farm Progress Days.
            Glewen notes that the whole idea of having counties host the show is to build leadership. “An ideal time frame is 20-25 years since the county has last hosted the show,” he said. “It’s a great leadership experience and it wouldn’t make sense to have the same group of people do it a second time. We’d like to see it involve a whole new group of people.”
            Georgson said the executive committee will be named within the next month or so and it will be up to that group to decide what they want to showcase in the county, what the theme will be and what farm or farms to select as host.
            He noted that the county experiences some urban pressure, located as it is between the metropolitan Milwaukee area and Dane County, but adds that agriculture is still the county’s number-one economic driver. The county has $1.8 billion in economic activity and nearly 8,000 jobs created by agriculture.
            Jefferson County will be part of the FTD pilot project to hire a county coordinator to work with the local Extension office in putting on the show and will help shape how that process works and “what it looks like, as well as what Extension’s role is going to be,” he said.


Task force ideas


In order to try to figure out how Farm Technology Days would deal with the changes in the UW-Extension system, a task force of Extension agents was convened last year. The group included several agents who had served as executive secretary for a county FTD show. The group concluded that it would no longer be possible for a county Extension agent to serve as executive secretary for the show, beginning with the 2019 show.
That task force recommended that future shows, now including Jefferson County’s, would need to hire a coordinator who could keep things running smoothly, since it isn’t clear how much time any given county agent would have to devote to such a large event. Past executive secretaries had to spend most of their time over several years working on the show.
The Cooperative Extension Service is currently in a major transition and re-organization process brought on by state budget cuts. Staff and structural changes are likely to take effect in early to mid-2017 which dictated the delay in naming the next host county and the idea for utilizing a county coordinator.
Officials with FTD, Inc. including Chairman John Shutske, have said that the organization is committed to moving the show from county to county each year as a way of building community leadership and keeping the show fresh from year to year.
Glewen adds that the board’s position remains that if there continue to be counties willing to step forward to host, that it will continue with that model. “However, if there ever was an opportunity to look at a permanent site, I think the board would look at it. Because of the cost of setting up a permanent site, it would have to be an unusual situation. At least for the time being, the board is committed to moving the show from county to county.”
            Georgson’s responsibilities include everything from horticulture to livestock and dairy. He is in his fourth year as the general County Agent in Jefferson County. But his experience there runs deep – he served for the prior 27 years as the Jefferson High School agriculture instructor.

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