Calumet County considers timing for farm show bid

Ray Mueller
Farm Technology Days kicked off in Kewaunee County on July 11, 2017. Calumet County is considering hosting the event in 2023.

CHILTON – After an extensive discussion involving committee members and other interested parties, the Calumet County Agricultural and Extension Education Committee decided to consider hosting a Wisconsin Farm Technology Days Show after 2021, probably in 2022 or 2023, which would be the 30th anniversary of the county's hosting of the then named Wisconsin Farm Progress Days at Schneider Farms in 1993.

At the meeting on Monday, Nov. 13, the committee heard from Matt Glewen, a county resident who became the executive director of the FTD after retiring as the county's Extension Service agriculture agent five years ago.

Glewen informed the committee that the next opening for being an FTD host will be for 2021 with the scheduled announcing of a host for that year on April 4 of 2018. To a question by Al Schneider, whose family hosted the 1993 event, Glewen replied that two other counties have expressed an interest for 2021 but that no formal bid has been made.

Upcoming FTD host counties are Wood in 2018, Jefferson in 2019, and Eau Claire in 2020.

Prior meetings

During its discussion on how to proceed, the committee referred to three informal meetings during the summer by county residents who are interested in pursuing the hosting of an FTD. It was noted that 21 persons attended the first session but that the latter two drew only a handful.

Referring to the latter two gatherings, questions were asked about how many people knew about those sessions. The smaller attendance was variously interpreted as a sign of concern about the level of interest or to a belief by the first meeting attendees that they had sufficiently made their point.

From his perspective, Glewen sees Calumet County as “sitting on a bubble” in terms of people, money, and resources for holding an FTD. There is certainly “no excess capacity,” he remarked.

Perspectives and outlooks

Committee member, county board supervisor, and former Fox Valley Technical College agriculture instructor Merlin Gentz of Appleton urged the committee and county to consider “taking a leap of faith” to host the event. “I favor making a pitch for 2021,” he said. “We'd need to belly up to the task.”

A recently released report by Kewaunee County on the successes of its hosting of the 2017 FTD was shared with the committee. It indicated that the 20 organizations staffing the food stands shared $100,913 in profits and that a report on the overall profit of the show will be given in January.

Having heard Kewaunee County's touting of how the event showcased all aspects of the county's agriculture and spurred a wealth of community support, including 1,900 volunteers, county supervisor and committee member Mike Hofberger heralded the “lots of diversity” shown in the groups which staffed the food stands. Glewen noted that host counties typically find 1,200 to 1,500 volunteers, of whom 600 work in the food stands.

Cautions and concerns

One challenge facing Calumet County is the fact that it has not had an Extension Service agriculture agent for more than one year. An additional complication, because of the impending state-wide revamping of the Extension Service, is the likelihood that the county will not have a full-time slot for that position.

Committee members learned that a job description has been completed for that position, which will be referred to as an “agriculture educator.” That position is not likely to be filled until early 2018 at the earliest.

The vacancy in the agriculture agent position bothered several attendees, including county board chair Alice Connors of Chilton. She warned that it might not be a good idea to bid for a 2021 FTD hosting with a new agent who would immediately be facing great responsibilities without having become acquainted in the county.

“It sounds great but we would not be ready in three years,” Connors stated. “Do the large and small farms in the county want to be involved?”

Timing for ag educator

County administrator Todd Romenesko, who had recently been briefed about the details of FTD, echoed those concerns. He cited the timing for hiring a new agriculture educator and suggested giving that person a role in the decision on when and if to host an FTD. He said the person should be given time to “get grounded” in the community first.

Having it known that the county is intending to host an FTD in 2021 would definitely limit the pool of candidates for an agriculture educator position, Glewen predicted.

“Let's not overload a new ag educator,” Gentz agreed. “Let's test the overall support and build momentum for 2023.”

Glewen called it “sound thinking” that Gentz, in making an amended motion, and fellow committee members Hofberger, Duane Stillman, and Joseph Mueller decided to not pursue an FTD hosting in 2021 but to keep the item on their agenda for consideration in 2022 or 2023.

Basics of FTD

In the meantime, the committee is counting on publicity to raise awareness of the idea among county residents and is intending to monitor the response. Gauging the county's potential, Glewen said it might be a good idea to change the usual practice by recruiting an executive committee before bidding to be an FTD host.

The typical procedure in bidding starts with the county board approving seed money of $20,000, Glewen pointed out. If the bid is accepted by the state governing board, an executive committee is formed and a host farm (or farms) with a minimum of 400 dedicated acres is chosen, he continued.

In addition to the space rental fees paid by up to 600 product and service vendors, the financial success of hosting an FTD rests on obtaining contributions from independent sponsors – a total of $200,000 to $300,000 in recent years, Glewen stated. He noted that the task of working with the vendors is handled by a contractor hired by the state-wide FTD board.

To a question about the overall economic impact that an FTD has for the host county, Glewen said Calumet County does not stand to fare as well as others because of the limited motel rooms in the county. He said spending by vendors for motels typically runs from $1.4 to $1.8 million per year.

Persons who want to share input on the idea of hosting a FTD are invited to contact any of the committee members, who also include Patrick Laughrin, or to attend the committee's next meeting at 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 11, in the meeting room next to the Extension Service office on the third floor of the county courthouse.