Farm Technology Days is back!
Perfect – but hot – weather and hundreds of vendors greeted the first attendees to walk through the gates of Farm Technology Days at Huntsinger Farms in Eau Claire, Wis., the first since 2019.
After last year's show was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, this year the show was ready to come back roaring with the latest field technology, equine demonstrations, panel discussions, youth contests and much, much more. Plus, eventgoers ate brats, burgers and the "Big Rygg," a monster burger with bacon, pulled pork, beef, chicken and cheese topped with horseradish sauce that honored the host family, the Ryggs.
The opening ceremonies on Tuesday, July 20 included appearances from Gov. Tony Evers, DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski, 72nd Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes, State Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) and State Reps. Warren Petryk (R-Eau Claire), Jesse James (R-Altoona) and Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire). Executive committee chair for the event Mike Gintner also spoke.
Gov. Evers awarded Gintner with a state proclamation on the importance of Farm Technology Days.
"We're really, really excited to have Farm Tech Days back in operation. It's a major and important exercise for all of us in the state to have this happen," Evers said. "It takes a lot of work, but a lot of good people, and every hour that's put in is going to pay off. I'm continuing advocating for agriculture in the state of Wisconsin."
"Every summer, we look forward to those three days that we get on a farm, take a walk through the fields, be with some of the exhibitors and see, feel, and touch agriculture happening all around us right here in the state of Wisconsin," Romanski said. "And this event here at this location has been so well done. You've got everything to see here."
Sen. Smith awarded Eric Rygg and his family – wife Brittany, brother Ryan and children Aria, Evan and Sabrina – with a recognition plaque of his mother, Nancy Bartusch, who led Huntsinger Farms as its CEO from 1972 until 2018, when Eric took over. Bartusch is still the CEO and co-owner, but has since stepped back to allow for Eric and his family to become primary owner and operator.
"Over the years, it goes back to the Huntsinger farm Rygg family, and it continues here. We're really pleased that you're here," Smith said. "The members of the Wisconsin Senate, on the motion of Senator Jeff Smith, recognize Nancy Bartusch for her work and dedication to farming in Eau Claire."
Guided farm tours took guests to see the Huntsinger Farms operation, as well as Nellie's Holsteins and Ferguson's Orchards, two of this year's featured businesses in the Eau Claire area. Virtual tours were also available for those unable to attend the tours in person.
The equine area on Tuesday offered many different activities, including roping and barrel racing, therapeutic riding and, of special interest, the mounted shooting demonstration. Several riders ranging from beginner to senior level gave the crowd a show while shooting red and blue balloons with revolvers. The sport is often a family affair, with several husband-and-wife pairs competing for the best time and accuracy.
Many regular vendors and demonstrators were happy to get back to the normal swing of things at Farm Technology Days this year. Jeff Piessig, owner of dairy supply company Advanced Dairy in Spring Valley, Wis., had on display robotic milking equipment that would let a cow in, clean off her teats, milk her, clean her teats again and let her out all within just a few minutes. All sorts of information is also displayed on a built-in monitor, like pounds of milk produced, and even includes pictures of the cow's udders for monitoring.
"So far, I'm real pleased. It's a warm day, but our visitors have been real steady," Piessig said. "We have a robotic display here, so a lot of people are looking at the robotic technology, and stopping in and getting out of the sun a little bit in the shade."
Piessig said that despite the lack of a show last year, being a vendor and advertising your business at Farm Technology Days is well worth the upfront costs because they get great results later on. He also said hosting the event on a horseradish farm, especially the biggest one in the US, makes things even more interesting than usual for him as a dairy industry man.
"I think it's an agriculture show, and dairy is just a piece of agriculture. ... I think it's neat that we do highlight different types of farms," Piessig said. "The dairy guys will come and they'll look at different things here, along with learning about other stuff that's out there, all the different technology. Every booth has got something different."
Attendees George and Karen Spires said this is the first show they've been to since the 2005 show, hosted by the Malm family in Clark County, and they were glad they chose this one to go to. The couple raises two colonies of bees, harvesting and giving away their honey, as well as a few acres of trees on a hobby farm in the Eau Claire area.
"This is the first time I've been to one in 15 years or something like that, so it's just huge. And the weather's not that bad," George Spires said.
"A lot of interesting things for all kinds of people," Karen Spires said. "You don't have to be a farmer to find things that you enjoy looking at and learning about."
First day attendance numbers were estimated at 16,800-18,200, not including youth, with an overall goal of 40,000-50,000 for the three-day period. There were also over 600 volunteers that helped make the event as successful as it was. Executive committee chair Mike Gintner said he was pleased with attendance for this year, especially since the 2019 Jefferson County show attendance numbers were "disappointing."
One thing the show was missing in 2021 was the usual Canadian vendors, Gintner said. Due to issues at the US-Canada border with COVID-19, Canadians are still barred from entering the US in most cases. Some other vendors, though, also had to cancel due to labor or equipment shortages, which are getting more challenging throughout the summer, Gintner said.
"That's not anything that they can control or that we can control, it's just a fact of what we're going through in today's world," Gintner said. "I don't blame them. If you don't have anything to present, it's just sitting around in a booth and showing off a piece of paper."
Gintner said it's a huge relief to have finally hosted the show successfully compared to where the executive committee was one year ago. He also said the cancelation presented opportunities to expand upon and improve the show, adding that they got access to better musical acts, expanded the Innovation Square and ended up hosting the statewide FFA tractor driving contest rather than just a regional one.
"In March, when we had to make the decision to postpone it, for the most part all the committees were probably about 80% done with what they needed to do. It was just a matter of the final execution right before the show," Gintner said. "A lot of the groundwork was done. But then we were also able to look at some parts of the show and try to improve on and make it better."
Farm Technology Days staff have also released their new website, chippewavalleyfarming.com, where the Innovation Square's six featured businesses are on display with virtual farm tours, recipes and educational tools for kids.
"We hope this website – along with the grants we’ll be able to make with our proceeds – will create a lasting and meaningful impact to people in Eau Claire and the greater Chippewa Valley and across the state," said Lee Caraher, chair of the publicity and promotions committee.