Update: Dane Co. offers World Dairy Expo contract extension

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
The circumstances surrounding the 2021 Expo, currently set for Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 this year at its home base Alliant Energy Center, are unclear due to restrictions on attendance and social distancing requirements implemented by the City of Madison and Dane County. The event was canceled last year for the first time in 53 years.

Dane County is offering the World Dairy Expo a 10-year contract extension to keep them in Madison after Expo officials said they were considering alternative sites for the 2021 event.

A press release said the contract also "compensates World Dairy Expo for economic losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic" as incentive to stay at the Alliant Energy Center, where the Expo has been held for over fifty years. The contract asks the Expo to stay in Madison until 2030 and also includes Dane County hosting the 2021 and 2022 shows at no cost to WDE. The World Dairy Expo Board will need to review the contract before it's ratified by the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

"World Dairy Expo is a long-standing partner of Dane County and this contract extension reflects our commitment to our farmers, our agricultural heritage, and this event," Parisi said. "Our partnership has withstood decades and a global pandemic won't change Wisconsin's love for this event and what it means for our economy."

"Given current rates of vaccination and nearly a half million dollars’ worth of upgrades the Alliant Energy Center is making to air handling units in its facilities, it is expected this fall's World Dairy event will be able to safely occur," the press release also stated.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi

WDE general manager Scott Bentley released the following statement March 10:

"World Dairy Expo appreciates Dane County’s generous offer included in a proposed 10-year contract renewal of the Alliant Energy Center that was received this morning. The offer and contract require time for review and approval by World Dairy Expo’s Executive Committee and staff. A decision will be made later this spring after all implications are thoroughly reviewed. Madison is Expo’s home, and we intend for that legacy to endure for generations to come. World Dairy Expo also remains committed to gathering the global dairy industry again this fall and continuing the tradition as the must-attend event for everyone in the global dairy industry."

The circumstances surrounding the 2021 Expo, currently set for Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 this year, are unclear due to restrictions on attendance and social distancing requirements implemented by the City of Madison and Dane County. The event was canceled last year for the first time in 53 years.

In 2017, World Dairy Expo logged an attendance of 74,572 visitors. Among them were 3,108 international guests hailing from 102 countries from around the world.

With vaccinations increasing at a rapid rate, it's uncertain how safe or unsafe it will be to attend such a large event at that time, as well as determine the logistics of international travel. Up to 70,000 people attend World Dairy Expo each year and they come from over 100 countries. The Expo also has an economic impact of more than $45 million each year.

Jim Ostrom, co-founder and CEO of award-winning dairy producer MilkSource, said the Expo is too important for Wisconsin to let go of it, calling it the "Super Bowl" of the dairy industry. For many in this industry, he said the week of Expo is the biggest week of their professional lives.

"Details matter, and I hope that the Expo team can come to a resolution. People, and myself as a producer, really need Expo to stay where it is in the form that it's in," Ostrom said. "It's just part of people's lives and part of people's being. ... It was very jolting to not have it (last year)."

Ostrom said he's seen Expo through the eyes of an FFA kid, a staff member, a commercial dairyman and, now, a dairy cattle exhibitor, stressing the significance of the relationships created through World Dairy Expo. It's especially important for bringing young people into the industry. Even if there are certain restrictions due to COVID-19, he said attendees will do it just to have Expo continue on.

"I do know that the show is so important to people that people will modify behaviors to work with whatever restrictions are in place, and people will sacrifice if the situation requires," Ostrom said. "By and large, the enthusiasm by the people that attend that show is unmatched. It's really a great place to be and it's the premiere event of the year."

State Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers asking him to take action to keep the Expo in Madison.

Representative Travis Tranel talks about water quality legislation during Ag Day at the Capitol hosted by the Wisconsin Farm Bureua Federation on Feb. 4, 2020.

"Letting the World Dairy Expo leave Wisconsin would be devastating to the future of our state's dairy industry," Tranel wrote. "The Expo serves as a place for dairy producers, companies, organizations and other dairy enthusiasts to gather to compete, and to exchange ideas, knowledge, technology and commerce.

"If important legacy events, like the World Dairy Expo, are forced to leave our state, they will likely never return," the letter continued. "This will put Wisconsin at risk of losing its place in the world as a dairy innovator and industry leader. Our state's farmers need you to lead and prevent this from happening."

Dane County health officials recently issued Emergency Order #14, which eases some restrictions due to the pandemic. The order, activated March 10, allowed restaurants to increase to 50% capacity and taverns to 25% capacity. Allowed indoor gatherings were also increased to 350 people (or 150 if there's food and drink), given everyone maintains a six-foot distance. Allowed outdoor gatherings increased to 500 people. Masks are still required.