Farm Tech days highlights Wisconsin's ag sector

Nathan Phelps and Colleen Kottke

ALGOMA - For seven generations, the Ebert family has farmed the land in Kewaunee County, with each succeeding generation positioning the farm for the future.

The Ebert family (from left) Jordan, Whitney, Renee and Randy, introduces themselves during the media event on their farm.

Today, present day owners, Randy and Renee Ebert are proud to share the story of their dairy operation and will have a lofty platform to share that message during the upcoming Farm Technology Days, July 11-13.

"Our industry needs to tell their story. And our industry needs to keep improving whether that be with water quality or land practices," Randy Ebert said. "We're forever trying different things."

The farm, Ebert Enterprises, has grown and changed dramatically in the last 30 years as both technology and farming have evolved. The farm has seen a steady growth in animals, employees and infrastructure.

“I knew I always wanted to farm and was working with my dad, we tried a couple different things. What really got us going was custom heifer raising in the early 1990s,” Ebert said. “We never thought we’d be where we are, and if you look at all the internal growth from 2000 forward, that’s a compliment to all the employees.

“In the '70s and '80s, I never thought I’d be managing employees,” he said. “That’s what drives this place.”

Randy Ebert leads a media tour of his operation Ebert Enterprises.

Ebert Enterprises, a family-owned operation employees 50 workers and another two dozen seasonal workers, will be doing their best to share that message with visitors at FTD.

The annual show — which draws about 45,000 people — is designed to highlight the latest innovation in farming, from equipment to production practices. The show moves to a different county every year, and it takes three years of planning to pull off.

Farm progress

What is now known as Farm Technology Days was launched as Farm Progress Days in 1954 in Waupaca. This is the first time Kewaunee County is hosting the event, which will move to Wood County in 2018.

Farm Progress Days was launched to jumpstart the adoption of technology in the ag sector and was essentially a plowing contest. The show, like the industry, has grown over the decades to include field demonstrations, local foods, and several hundred exhibitors.

Farm technology has undergone a sea change of technology since that first show in the mid-1950s. Some of the most dramatic leaps forward have happened in the last 30 years with the adoption, and melding, of computers and GPS for use on the farm.

“Together, those did things nobody could imagine,” said Matt Glewen, who has been involved in the agricultural sector since the early 1980s and the show’s general manager for the past five years. “I think in the next big shift … agriculture will probably need to have a lighter footprint on the land in terms of conservation, water quality and all those things. We’re getting there, but that’s got to happen in the next five to 10 years.”

Glewen would like attendees take some insights about the agricultural industry away from the event.

These large walls of fans runs 3-4 months out of the year, keeping the cows inside comfortable. Ebert said Lake Michigan - just two miles away - provides the dairy's best heat abatement.

“I hope they see agriculture is progressive, and it’s not standing still. It’s moving forward all the time,” he said. “A lot of that movement is for everyone’s benefit, not just the people involved in the industry.”

Embracing the past

While Ebert is forever searching for ways to modernize the farm and improve efficiencies, he also embraces his family heritage. Most notable on the farm is the large red, round barn that houses the 80-stall rotary parlor.

"My mom's side of the family were barn builders and we tried to mimic a couple of things here and there that they would have done," he said, referring to the milking parlor and small red barn that serves as a venue for hosting hospitality  events..

About people

The event gives the Ebert family and others involved in the ag sector a chance to tell their story.

“We want (attendees) to ask questions and find out anything they need to know,” said Jordan Ebert, Randy’s son. “We’re excited to hopefully educate farmers and non-farmers about what’s going in agriculture.”

While much of the show is focused on technical innovation and farming practices, the Ebert family says it’s also about people: the people who make up the state’s $88 billion agricultural industry, the people who run the Ebert farm, and the people who pull together to make the annual show happen.

Renee Ebert chats with show organizers during the media events.

“Our definition of making this event successful starts with the people: the people attending, people volunteering and our own employees,” Jordan Ebert said. “This event has introduced us to a ton of people. … There are great relationships that we’ve built and a lot of people have come on to our yard and allowed us to tell our story, which we’re always looking to do.”

Renee says the welcome mat is always there for folks who would like to learn more about their farm.

"Our job is to educate the public. If people didn't have time to stop at Farm Technology Days or have a chance to go on the farm tour, call us and we can set up another tour to show them around," she said. "This event is not just about us but Kewaunee County as well. We want to give them a reason to come back."

This is the first time that Kewaunee County - in the show's 63-year history - is hosting Farm Technology Days.

The round red parlor that houses the 80-stall rotary parlor, is a nod to Ebert's grandmother's family who were barn-builders by trade.

"Talk about Wiscosin Ag," said ag broadcaster Mike Austin. "In this county alone there's commercial fishing, dairy and beef farming, Christmas trees, apples, cherries and dairies. It's important to understand that that this is not just about the Ebert Farm or tent city  of the demonstrations;it's also what's happening around the county, and they're opening their doors to you."