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MARSHFIELD - With only 839 hours to go before they host thousands of people at this year’s Farm Technology Days in Wood County, organizers invited farm reporters to the county June 5 for Media Day – the traditional preview and countdown for the annual outdoor farm show.

The show will be July 10-12 at the D&B Sternweis and Heiman family farms near Marshfield.

Matt Lippert, Wood County UW-Extension agent, dairy farmer and executive director of the three-day event, said a video that was produced to honor the county’s agricultural heritage, made by Dan Hagenow, captured the pride in agriculture that exists in the county. “After 58 years, we are proud to bring (the show) back to this county,” he said.

Attendees at the show will see the importance of dairy to the county – the two host farms both have dairy operations – and will get a sense of the county’s leadership in other agricultural areas. Wood County leads Wisconsin in production of cranberries and Wisconsin is the top state for cranberry production. Cranberries feature prominently in the logo created for this year’s show, with the slogan “Farm Forward.”

Lippert said people will also get a sense of the importance of dairy processing, farm history, value-added food processing and stainless steel manufacturing in the county as well as a world-class health care system in Marshfield Clinic, which will provide a range of health screenings at the event.

Dennis Bangart, a dairy farmer and agricultural loan officer who has served as the executive committee chair since the county got the bid to put on the 2018 show, said 200 to 300 planning volunteers have been at work on the show since the county signed its contract to host three years ago.

The Sternweis and Heiman families, who will host, both have deep roots in the community. Both have been in operation for five generations. The two families have been good neighbors for generations, and recently a marriage between a Heiman son and a Sternweis daughter is producing the sixth generation for both families.

Heiman family

Ken Heiman is married to Joellen Weber Heiman and her family has run the Weber Farm Store since her great-grandparents purchased the property outside Marshfield in 1904. Their family has milked cows, pasteurized and processed their milk and sold it to the public through that retail outlet for 60 years as well as selling meat and cheese.

When her brother was interested in selling the farm in 1985, Ken and Joellen, along with Ken’s brothers bought it, along with the Weber Farm Store. He wanted to do that, he said this week, because if he didn’t his children would never get the opportunity to see if they could farm.

Since they took over that business it has been renewed and in recent years their offering has been expanded to new products like kefir and Crema as well as milk packaged in pouches. As their farm was being hemmed in by a golf course, elementary school and condos, Ken said they decided to re-locate the cows to new facilities they call Heiman Holsteins a short distance away. Today their facilities include a 40-cow rotary parlor.

Three Heiman brothers are involved – Ken, Kelvin and Kim. They rebuilt and modernized the dairy farm and have brought in Ken’s son Josh and Kelvin’s son Andy.

The Heimans are also owners of Nasonville Dairy. The local cheese plant was Lincoln Center Co-op back in the day and had served farmers since 1885; when it came up for sale in the late 1960s the Heimans’ dad was its manager. He bought it and it became a proprietary cheese factory. Today it is capable of processing 1.3 million pounds of milk a day.

Some of their products include Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack. They also produce specialty cheese including Omega 3, Asiago, Blue Marble and Feta, which is produced on a new feta cheese line from France, Kelvin said. They can pasteurize 70,000 pounds of milk an hour in their plant and produce about 100,000 pounds of cheese each day from the milk of 200 farm patrons.

Kelvin noted that milk from a separate group of cows at the 500-cow Heiman Holstein herd is kept segregated for use in the Weber Farm Store, making it a true farmstead dairy. The rest of the milk goes to Nasonville Dairy.

Sternweis family

Their neighbor and co-host Daryl Sternweis said his family’s farm was founded in 1877. They were the first dairy farm in the area with a freestall barn and parlor, built about 1965, and they more recently tried a robotic system. They were unhappy with the results and in the past year installed a rotary parlor to milk their 450 cows. The family operates a custom field work business in addition to taking care of their own 1,200 acres of land.

Matt Glewen noted that the history of Farm Technology Days began in 1954 when the state and the nation, and their farmers, were recovering from World War II. It was a time when there was a huge flush of technology and people at the College of Agriculture saw that it wasn’t being adopted very quickly by farmers.

“They came up with this dream and in 1954 this show began with a plowing competition in Waupaca County as a way to draw farmers in. This will be the 65th show,” said Glewen, who is the general manager of Farm Technology Days, Inc., the statewide group that oversees the show and its management.

The show is unique, he said, in that it moves every year and is run basically by volunteers. Other show managers across the country are amazed that the annual Wisconsin show is run that way and continues to operate. “They can’t even imagine how it’s possible,” he said.

Glewen said he’s looking forward to the show—those that are hosted in the middle of the state typically get great attendance.

Farm toy re-invented

Executive Committee Chair Dennis Bangart noted that Wood County decided to “re-invent” the farm toy that has traditionally been a part of the show. Other organizing committees in other counties have spent heavily on the scale-model commemorative toys and it has proven to be expensive.

Bob Meyer, another member of the committee said that it costs $100,000 just to get the original die made, from which the castings will be done. A declining number of collectors and an escalating price for the toys helped sway the decision not to create the 1/16th scale model this year.

Meyer said he got the list of FTD collectors from last year’s host in Walworth County and contacted them all, getting only 60 or 65 responses. Wood’s organizers had intended to commission a model of an H&S forage box, since that company is headquartered in Marshfield on a Western Star truck. The show will also be hosting a convention for Oliver tractor collectors and there was some talk that an Oliver could be commissioned as the toy, with a built-in group of possible buyers, but Meyer said that the Oliver connection came too late to make that work.

“It’s expensive and the sheer economics mean that the chance of returns keeps diminishing.  With the price of a model getting up to $300 we decided it’s just not worth it,” Meyer said.

Bangart didn’t want to abandon the idea of a toy completely so the committee came up with a pickup truck pulling a stock trailer.

State Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Sheila Harsdorf said that each year Farm Technology Days provides a showcase for the $88 billion agricultural industry in the state. In 2010 the show was hosted in Pierce County just two miles from her home farm.

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