What can one say about the annual Wisconsin Public Service Farm Show? It's the late March event that farmers and farm businesses eagerly look forward to each year that for many years was held at Lambeau Field and for the last decade or so takes over the Experimental Aircraft Association grounds in Oshkosh.
Farmers see the Farm Show as a place to see new things; talk to company representatives about new (and old) equipment and programs; and meet friends they may have not seen since the last show.
And they are never disappointed.
It's also an event held in a confined, walkable area that includes four airplane hangers and two huge tents, all on concrete (meaning no mud and a smooth walking surface).
The agriculture field representatives at WPS do a great job in organizing and putting the show together as it gets bigger year by year.
Bigger? Yes, a second exhibit tent was added this year that allowed many companies who had been on a waiting list get a spot in the show. In addition, several firms that had previously had outdoor exhibits were happy to get in and under some cover.
'Some years we froze or got wet outside, and we appreciate the move inside,' an equipment dealer said.
As always at farm shows, I try to find new things or older things I haven't seen before. Here are some I came upon.
·Energrow Automated Oilseed Pressing System that pellatizes soybeans on the farm. Soybeans go in the top and come out as a freshly-pelleted, high-quality and consistent protein feed and value-added oil.
Jasmin Hoper, sales manager and owner (with her dad and inventor, Ernst), explained that while milking 120 cows in Ontario, they wondered why they were selling soybeans and buying them back for their dairy ration. Their solution was to work with machinists and engineers to design a cold screw press to process their beans.
They now run Energrow Systems and are manufacturing a pressing system that typically generates a three-year payback with a 75-cow herd, according to company information (get info at energrow.com).
'Our goal is to help farmers use more of their own farm-grown crops; minimize purchased feed and fuel; and produce a more consistent feed, making more money for the farm,' Hoper said.
·Side-by-side exhibits of Oxbo (oxbocorp.com) and ROC (roc.ag) hay mergers impressed me to no end. The 34- and 35-foot machines are massive and expensive (well over six figures).
The idea of merging hay into bigger windrows in order to feed bigger hay-making harvesters is still rather new, and these machines made me think back to raking windrows two mower swaths wide with a side-delivery rake as a farm boy.
I talked to a custom operator who owned an Oxbow merger and asked why? He said he merged over 3,000 acres of hay last year and 'needed a big machine.'
·The Propel Automated Sliding door is a remote controlled system that opens and closes sliding doors on barns, sheds, repair shops and whatever. It works on doors up to 42 feet wide from a direct system inside the building. The Illinois-based company began offering the system in 2009.
The drive system includes an industrial motor, control board, header drive rail, door arm and remote. Side clinchers secure the door when closed, and floor guides move the door smoothly during the opening and closing.
This looks like a labor-saver if you have big sliding doors and don't want to get on and off a tractor or truck (info at propeldoor.com).
I didn't get to see all 500-plus commercial exhibits at the show; in fact, I only got to two of the four hangers but made both tents. I guess I spend too much time talking and not enough just looking. But, it's all interesting and fun.
The Farm Show is also a good place to eat. The Wisconsin Cattleman's Association offered rib eye steak sandwiches, the Wisconsin Pork Association had butterfly pork chop sandwiches, the Wisconsin Bison Association had their Double Buffalo Burger, the Winnebago County Holstein Association offered ice cream sundaes and, of course, the Wisconsin Potato/Vegetable Growers had their popular baked potato and toppings made for a menu that more than satisfied all the eaters.
And, this year, on the first day, the warmish temperatures drew an estimated 12,000 attendees and prompted some to eat outside the tent at picnic tables.
Time to talk
One of the reasons farm folks come to the Oshkosh Farm Show — other than to buy something — is to talk to old friends and meet new people. Consider: farming is sort of a lonely life in many cases with family, employees and an occasional sales person as the only people one sees on a regular basis.
A day at this show during a slow farming time is a good break in routine. The Oshkosh location and show layout offer a quick in and out for farmers in a heavily concentrated farming area as you can see a lot in a short time.
Farm show conclusions
Several exhibitors and I were talking about agriculture and farm shows and concluded the following.
1) There are not any equipment or services that add labor to farming — everything is and always has been aimed at saving labor, time and cost.
2) Many farmers have never heard of a three tine fork, mowed hay, driven a cultivator, ran a hay baler, took grain to a feed mill or plowed ground.
3) Many farm managers are women, and they do attend farm shows to look at exhibits (many of which have women as the company representatives). Many families come to the shows because the entire family is involved in the farm operation.
4) Farmers still like to kick tires, feel paint and talk directly with company reps.
5) Everything is bigger, more automated and more expensive than 'when I was growing up.'
Unspoken but there
Needless to say, an undercurrent of uneasiness was apparent among farmers and exhibitors as they looked at low milk and grain prices. Farmers aren't buying as much or as fast as in the past few years as the money just isn't there.
Conversely, if farmers don't buy, companies and their representatives aren't selling, and that impacts a lot of people.
'I guess that is how our economy works,' a wise and well-experienced farmer said. 'Farming is indeed a challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. If I wanted guaranteed security, worked behind a desk all day, had regular paid vacations and forced retirement at age 65, I'd go nuts. I'll probably do most of those things, but I want to enjoy life my way — as a dairy farmer.'
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at email@example.com.