Jefferson County pulls double duty in hosting upcoming FTD shows

Jan Shepel
Mike and Sarah Walters took over the family farm from Mike's parents, Bud and Bev Walters in 1992, naming it M&S Farms. The farm and family grew quickly and in 2003 the Walters decided to rename the farm Walter Grain Farms.

MADISON - With just about two months to go until Jefferson County’s 2019 Farm Technology Days, the pace is picking up for volunteers and organizers of the annual three-day outdoor farm show – scheduled this year for July 23-25.

Mike and Sarah Walter will host the show on their farm, near Grellton, where they farm about 6,000 acres, growing corn, soybeans, winter wheat and alfalfa. It is the second time the Walters family has hosted the big show. Bernard and Beverly Walter, Mike’s parents, hosted the show in 1984, when it was still called Farm Progress Days.

Jefferson County also played host to Farm Progress Days in 1956 when Craig and Laura Beane and Bill Ward joined forces to host the event on their farms.

For this year’s show, organizers said they are on track in terms of selling their booths and have been setting and meeting their targets. Scott Schneider, who heads the county show’s executive committee, said they had budgeted $40,000 in surplus funds “to handle the things we know are going to come up as the show gets closer.”

Schneider says that it has been nice to see the communication develop between the committees along with friendships among the members who likely may not have met if not for working on the upcoming show. “We appreciate people giving of their time,” he said. “It’s humbling to be part of something like this.”

The next big dates for the show are June 22, when organizers will stake out Tent City, June 24, when the electrical installation will begin and Media Day on June 25, when members of the media are invited to the host farm to talk with organizers about FTD. Jefferson County organizers joined other volunteers from FTD events at the recent annual board meeting of FTD, Inc., the organization that oversees the programs on a statewide basis.

The theme for this year’s show is “Generations of Farm Pride” in light of the fact that the Walters family also hosted in 1984. “We look forward to highlighting their farm and family,” he added.

Adam and Heather, along with their children, will help host Farm Technology Days on the Walters Grain Farms in Jefferson County this summer.

LaVern Georgson, with the UW-Extension, is executive secretary of the Jefferson County show. He said that as the show has developed, organizers embraced the concept of celebrating agriculture, even though farmers are experiencing tough times.

Benchmarks have been set high by previous county events, Georgson said, so his county decided to try some new things. They are organizing the first-ever career day at FTD on Tuesday of the show. They have 10 buses coming from all over the state to bring students from Skills USA and agriculture classes to the event. “We are working with exhibitors to make sure there are career day opportunities,” he said.

They are also planning to extend the show’s hours on Wednesday, to 7 p.m. Ticket prices will be reduced at 5 p.m. and there will be some presentations and tastings hosted by local wineries and beer makers. Organizers hope that in doing so they can draw in people who might otherwise not attend.

Brad and Kristi Walters enjoy raising their four children on the family operation, Walters Grain Farms.

Expanded crop demos

The host farm does not include a dairy operation as did many recent host farms, but Georgson said that the farm’s acreage offers enhanced and expanded opportunities for crop demonstrations including raking and baling hay, combining wheat and tillage and tiling demonstrations.

Since there is a strong contingent of draft horse owners in Jefferson County, Georgson said they plan on holding a horse-drawn plowing event during the show along with vintage tractors. “We are hoping to replicate the old plowing contest that is the origin of today’s Farm Technology Days event,” he added.

RELATED: Farm Technology Days heads to western WI in 2020

While the show will celebrate its place in history—shifting Wisconsin from a wheat state to a dairy state—the future will also be on display as farmers talk about two solar companies that are exploring the option of building solar arrays in the area.

Show goers get used to certain kinds of food at the annual event and five of the six food tents at this year’s show will have those traditional foods, but in the sixth tent organizers are planning to showcase Emil’s Pizza, produced locally in Watertown, and specialty treats like cream puffs.

The farm toy for this year’s show will be an Oliver 1600 tractor equipped with a picker. Organizers are also exploring the idea of holding a reunion of past host counties as one highlight for Wednesday.

Jefferson County Farm Technology Days

Back to Jefferson Co. for 2021

Jefferson County will again host the show in 2021, when FTD will be staged at the county’s Fair Park. “It’s a great venue,” said Matt Glewen, General Manager of FTD, Inc. “It’s just big enough to host this show.”

The plan is to rent additional nearby acreage for parking and field demonstration and that part of the plan is “going well,” he added.

The plan to hold the show there is being welcomed by the show’s exhibitors, he said, “especially those who have been asking for years for a permanent show site.”

Doug Reinemann, who chairs the FTD, Inc. board of directors, said the choice was made to host the show at the Jefferson Fair Park because there was no county that had volunteered to host the 2021 show. “We had looked at the Iola Car Show grounds as a potential site and then Jefferson County put in a bid and made a presentation to give it a try and the board felt it would be a better fit.”

Adds Glewen: “The board made a commitment to hold the show in a host county every year but the board also saw that Jefferson County is a very dedicated agricultural county.”

Hosting the show at the fairgrounds also meant $100,000 in savings for FTD, Glewen added since there are enough buildings to house events. That means that FTD doesn’t have to rent the big tents that usually populate Tent City.

As they looked at the rolling land that hosts the Iola Car Show, there were some concerns, said Glewen and Jefferson’s fairgrounds offers a flat site. “Iola was workable, with its paved streets. The board just felt the show had more urban potential at Jefferson County.”

The management of the Jefferson County fairgrounds “did a great job of presenting and that made the decision easy,” added Reinemann.

Glewen emphasized that this was a one-time thing. “Big disclaimer—it’s not going to be there every year. Even though some of our exhibitors want a permanent site, this is a one-year thing,” he said.

Wisconsin’s Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Brad Pfaff said the big farm show is important these days because things aren’t easy for farmers. “We need to tell our communities what agriculture means. Our farmers work extra hard every day and at the end of the day they’re tired,” Pfaff said. “They don’t always have time to tell their story.”

Agriculture, Pfaff said, is more than bushels and bales and hundredweights of production, he said. “That’s what we’ve got to tell. Our state has a lot of pride – but that doesn’t pay the bills – we’ve got to have our markets.”

Wisconsin is a treasure of climate, water, processing, genetics, cattle, work ethic and dedication and “you can’t replace that somewhere else,” he said.