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Eau Claire County to host 2020 FTD show

Jan Shepel
At last week’s annual board meeting of Farm Technology Days, Inc., Eau Claire County earned the nod to host the next show in the multi-year lineup for the huge three-day, outdoor farm show. They included (left to right) Heather DeLuka, Sara Novotny, Mark Hagedorn, Steve Strey and Tami Schraufnagel.

MADISON - Wisconsin Farm Technology Days Inc. will continue to select host counties and move the huge, three-day outdoor farm show around the state. At last week’s board meeting of FTD, Eau Claire County presented its bid to host the show in 2020 and was approved by the leadership.

“The board had made the decision that as long as there were counties that were willing and enthusiastic to come to the table that we would continue to rotate the show,” said John Shutske, chairman of the FTD board.

Wisconsin FTD officials associate with managers and organizers of farm shows around the nation and Shutske said many of them are impressed and puzzled about how Wisconsin gets this show done every year. “They wonder how we are making this happen,” he said. “It would just not be possible without the help of enthusiastic volunteers in each host county every year.”

Sara Novotny, the 4-H agent and co-department head in Eau Claire County’s University of Wisconsin-Extension office, told Wisconsin State Farmer that the county has a strong rural/urban interface as well as organic, beef and dairy production and a lot of hotel rooms. “We have it all,” she said.

Her co-department chair Mark Hagedorn adds that the county also has significant orchard and vineyard businesses and they plan to work on the concept of clean, clear water for all as a theme of the show. Hagedorn is the former Extension Agent in Brown County where he helped host Farm Technology Days in 2008.

There are 1,300 farms in the county with 130 dairy farms. It has been 28 years since the county last hosted the show, in Augusta.

Several of the Eau Claire County board members accompanied Novotny and Hagedorn to Madison to make their county’s pitch to the FTD board. The idea of hosting again has been percolating in the county since last fall’s World Dairy Expo.

Heather DeLuka, who serves on the county board’s Ag and Extension committee, said her brother-in-law was involved in Barron County’s show and she had a chance to see what a positive influence the show is for a host county.

Ag and Extension committee chair Tami Schraufnagel was a volunteer at the 1992 show held in the county. She’s hoping for better weather in 2020. At Augusta, two of the three days of the show were cancelled because of rain.

Listening sessions had been held around the county to determine the level of interest before the delegation made their bid to host the show. The two county board members said the local convention and visitor’s organization has come forward to support the effort and local law enforcement agencies are very knowledgeable in handling crowd-sized events.

That’s because the county is home every year to a large-scale country music festival and the Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies have honed their skills there, DeLuka said.

She said the county’s FTD organizers worked to find the right time to host the July farm show so it didn’t conflict with other large events in the county. But since it is held during the middle of the week, that turned out to be fairly easy, she added.

Local auctioneer Steve Strey, who specializes in selling farm equipment, rounded out the five-person Eau Claire delegation to Madison last week.

Kewaunee County 2017

Just before the Eau Claire County announcement, organizers of the other shows in the lineup reported on their progress.

It’s about 90 days until tens of thousands of people descend on Kewaunee County for the 2017 Farm Technology Days. Amber Hewitt said that her volunteers are ready to showcase the county and tell the story of agriculture in Kewaunee County.

“Our publicity committee took it to heart as a first step to help people figure out where Kewaunee County is and have created a Facebook page that has gotten 3,300 likes,” she said. An emotion-filled video produced about the host family has already had nearly 95,000 views.

Aerica Bjurstrom, executive secretary of the show said that 930 volunteers have signed up to work out of the needed 1,500 people. Algoma is the largest town in the county with 4,000 people, so the enthusiastic response from so many people has been extraordinary, she said.

Over 610 of the commemorative toys have been sold. The Natural Resources Conservation Service plans to have two kinds of soil pits at the host farm owned by the Ebert family just southwest of Algoma.

Bjurstrom reported that her county has enthusiastic organizers of the equine events at Farm Technology Days. Nationally known clinicians, including Chris Cox will present seminars and mounted shooters will put on shows during the event.

Local farmers are building over 40 tour wagons that will be used during the show and field demonstrations will focus on haylage and alternative crops, she said. The show will also focus on “rock harvesting,” she added. “Randy has a lot of rocks.”

The executive secretary also she she’s hoping that the site of this year’s show, so close to Lake Michigan, will provide some natural cooling so it won’t be as hot as last year’s event.

Special foods at the show will have a distinctly local flavor, including steak sandwiches made from beef grown by the Eberts and salmon spread. For Innovation Square, a section of Tent City that began with the Dane County show, organizers are planning a “little Lake Michigan,” she said, with a pier and lighthouse.

Bjurstrom said the county’s fundraising goal was $500,000, split between cash and in-kind donations. They have surpassed those goals with $350,000 in cash and $275,000 in in-kind donations.

Kewaunee County has never hosted the show before.

Wood County 2018

Dennis Bangart, a farm loan officer, is the executive committee chair for Wood County’s FTD show in 2018. The Sternweis and Heiman families – both with Century Farms -- are on tap as hosts for the event, which was held in the county once before – in 1960 when it was called Farm Progress Days.

Wood County, he noted, has two larger cities on either end of the county – Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids. The agricultural production is divided, with most of the dairy farming on the northern half and the cranberry production on the southern half. Organizers hope to bring all those things together when they host the show.

Visitors to the show will be able to get virtual tours of a new rotary parlor and the video will be used to help educate students about agriculture. “When kids in school have to watch ‘Food Inc.’ twice before they graduate, we think this will be a good thing,” he said.

Matt Lippert, executive secretary for the show, said that cranberries will be on the menu and also on the educational program as they show visitors about the county’s other large ag-related production sector.

“We’re excited about holding this show right in the center of the state and we hope to get city and country people to attend,” he said.

Jefferson County 2019

Scott Schneider said Jefferson County was a little “behind the eight-ball” as they had a shorter time frame to get started on their 2019 show. In the past, the next year’s show in the lineup is announced in April (as it was this year) but concerns about how the UW-Extension shakeup would affect the show kept officials from naming a new host county on that schedule.

Jefferson County officials had shorter time frame to get their committees organized due to that delay. Now their show is about 2 ½ years away and their have put an agreement in place with the host family – Mike and Sarah Walter.

This will be the third time Jefferson County has hosted the show. Craig and Laura Beane combined farms with Bill and Jan Ward to host in 1956. Mike’s parents, Bernard and Beverly Walter, hosted in 1984, putting the Walters in a very small group of families that have hosted the show multiple times.

“Why would a family want thousands of people coming to their place? There’s no financial incentive but it’s the right thing to do and it’s a nice thing to do. It allows us to show others what kind of stock we come from,” Schneider said.

LaVern Georgson, the executive secretary of the show, said they plan to highlight the county’s agricultural strengths – the poultry business, large plant nursery presence in the county and the largest trout farm in the state. “It’s a diverse agricultural county.”

Walworth County wraps up

Walworth County hosted last summer’s show, which was “blessed” with some of the hottest weather of the year. Peg Reedy, who served as executive secretary for the show, said her team had set goals of educating the public about agriculture as well as showcasing the biggest, newest and best in agriculture.

Another goal was to create some of the new leaders for the county and showcase Walworth County’s unique culture and agriculture.

Kathy Baumeister, who headed up the field demonstration committee, said that volunteers who worked on the show formed a bond and the event brought a lot of people together. She thought that in the heat it was significant that people rode trams through the dairy barns and were amazed to notice how cool it was for the cows in the freestall barns.

“Maybe we turned on a light bulb there.”