2021 World Dairy Expo is a hit, despite lower attendance than usual

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
The iconic World Dairy Expo globe still spins in 2021.

World Dairy Expo represents the best of the dairy industry year after year, and with the 2020 show's cancelation, people were itching to get back to the Alliant Energy Center for 2021.

Even though international attendance was extremely limited due to continuing COVID-19 health and safety restrictions both by land and air, domestic attendance still showed up strong this year, especially in the showring. International cattle show entries were higher than ever this year, making each show even more competitive than usual.

The Alliant Energy Center grounds also welcomed attendees back to a slightly different-looking Expo, including a relocation and remodeling of the Tanbark and the expansion of the Trade Center that houses the annual trade show. Plus, masks were required in all indoor spaces, though there was plenty going on outside that didn't require attendees to wear them.

Many vendors were satisfied with how much business they had going on at Expo this year, knowing there would be less international attendees. Ryan Pollow, who represents Kawasaki dealers in Wisconsin, northern Illinois and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, said this is the first time Kawasaki has had a booth at the show (they were supposed to have a booth at the 2020 show). He said now that Kawasaki is starting to invest in more agriculture-related machinery and products, he was glad to see many potential clients committed to seeing what they had to show.

"The nice thing about this show is the people that we have talked to in the booth are really committed, like actually purchasing, kinds of customers," Pollow said. "That's been a nice experience for this as they're not just browsing, they're serious customers."

Ryan also said his company's booth gained a lot of attention because they "sell fun" – not only were agriculture-oriented vehicles up for grabs, but so were recreational ones like ATVs. He said he's planning on highly recommending a return to Expo next year to continue having those customer-facing connections and making business relationships that focus on the farmers.

Marshall FFA members serve ice cream to Expo-goers.

Faisal Luqman, the CEO of Episurg Group which manufactures surgical tools for cattle veterinarians in Sialkot, Pakistan, said he's had a booth at Expo every year since 2017 and it's provided big benefits to his business. Due to the international nature of his company, Luqman said he focuses heavily on forming relationships with exporters and importers. Episurg mainly exports to Europe and the United States.

"We manufacture our products in Pakistan, then we have to export them because these are not to be used in Pakistan. In Pakistan, the dairy industry is (smaller)," Luqman said. "We are manufacturing these products for the companies like Nasco. They are the big brands here and they are encouraging production with us for these products."

Dean Baumgarten, who owns the farm equipment dealer Forward Farm Lines, said the nicer weather was both a blessing and a curse to Expo this year. While being outside at Expo was nice due to the warm and sunny weather, it also meant some farmers were back in the fields getting work done rather than spending time at Expo. He also noted that ag corporations are becoming more and more ubiquitous at Expo, making it a little harder every year for family farms to afford.

"All the farmers that would come locally are busy in the fields right now, taking advantage of this weather," Baumgarten said. "As far as everything else ... as to the economics of the farming, you know, the smaller farms are (becoming) less and less, and you're getting more corporate, larger family farms. It's just less people that would be interested in some of this equipment."

Baumgarten explained that this gradual change has affected his business because his target audience is smaller farms with 300 head or less of cows. But when you start climbing towards 1,000 head or more, most large farms tend to get self-propelling equipment rather than manual in order to save time and resources, he said.

But despite the issues, Baumgarten commended Expo staff for putting the whole thing together so well under pressure from the pandemic.

"The Expo staff has done a tremendous job. I mean, they're working with so many unknown variables. You take a year off, and then you come back and it's not totally gone yet and you don't know what to do," Baumgarten said. "I think they've done a very nice job with what they've had."

Attendance was down significantly at this year's Expo, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good time.

Those on the education and training side of things in the dairy industry also enjoyed themselves at Expo this year. Sarah Daugherty is a workforce development manager at a heifer raising facility and former dairy cow nutritionist, said it's been especially important to reconnect with folks she's not seen since the last Expo in 2019. She said planning is instrumental in working with dairy cattle, so she's thinking ahead and talking about the future with others here.

"Seeing what people are doing in their professional life, catching up on how their families are and then learning about what's new in the field is (good)," Daugherty said. "This time around, we're talking a lot about preparing for next year for the calves, and how we help the calves handle the summertime. We're planting the seeds now to try and prepare for next summer so the calves can do even better."

Jen Rediske, a veterinarian out of southern Wisconsin, said she's always especially interested in the new veterinarian technology that gets showcased at Expo every year. She said she was happy to be present at Expo in person, rather than virtually, because many aspects of Expo just aren't the same over the internet.

"The pandemic obviously has cut down on international travel and some of those people were unfortunately unable to participate as much this year, or chose not to," Rediske said. "But I think people who are comfortable with the consequences of the choices they're making – of being here and comingling – are happy to be here and grateful for the opportunity to actually reconnect and experience Expo the way Expo can be experienced in a pandemic... in person, not virtually."

Expo is not only about big business, but small business too, Rediske said. She added that many small farms and other businesses are looking for ways to incorporate new technology effectively and affordably into their own operations, and part of the reason she attends each year is because she wants to help those people find workable solutions.

Rob Dreger, vice president of sales and marketing at feed company O&T Farms, said "reboot" is the word for this year's Expo. Recognizing how difficult the past few years have been for dairy farmers, he said Expo is a good forum for sharing opportunities, knowledge and ideas with others in the industry.

"I think everybody's starting to realize we got to reboot. We got to change our perceptions a little bit," Dreger said. "If you don't get together, you probably don't see all the new ideas and new opportunities. We haven't been here in two years and everybody's been at home and doing what we're supposed to do. Now we're here, and and it's been a good show."