Wood County welcomes Farm Technology Days with open arms

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted showgoers attending this year's Farm Technology Days in Wood County.

MARSHFIELD - Wood County welcomed the Farm Technology Days show with open arms as the show returned to the central Wisconsin county for the second time in 58 years.

Sunny skies greeted showgoers Tuesday morning as they made their way to the show located just outside of Marshfield. A steady stream of vehicles churned up clouds of dust as they filed in across the newly mowed hay fields surrounding the 60-acre Tent City.

Inside the towering Family Living Tent in the heart of Tent City, attendees were introduced to this year's host families: D&B Sternweis Farms (Daryl and Brenda Sternweis and their family) & Weber’s Farm Store/Heiman Holsteins (Ken and Joellen (Weber) Heiman, Kelvin and Marilyn Heiman, and their families).

Farm Technology Days host families (from left) Brenda and Daryl Sternweis, Marilyn and Kelvin Heiman and Joellen and Ken Heiman share a laugh during the opening ceremony on Tuesday, July 10.

"The last time the show was here was back in 1960 and we're glad to have it back," said Douglas Machon, chairman of the Wood County Board of Supervisors during the opening ceremony. "We're grateful for our host families: the Sternweis and Heiman families. They love what they do and they know what they're doing. Collectively they are the royal family of dairy in Wood County."

Teaching tool

Although hosting the state's largest outdoor agricultural show is a huge time commitment, especially for busy farmers, Daryl Sternweis said the effort is worth it in the long run.

"Everyone knows how busy we are, but we decided to take time out for something like this because it's such a big teaching tool about our industry for the people in our communities that are generations removed from the farm," Sternweis said. "And it's also a way to show people that farming isn't all about the big farms. There are still little family farms that are out here thriving and going strong."

Although the farms of this year's host families seem modest compared to the state's largest dairy operations, they have both embraced technology to move their respective farms into the future.

"When I was milking cows back in the 80s, if you had a cow producing over 100 pounds of milk, you were ecstatic," said Secretary Sheila Harsdorf of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. "Today many cows in the Sternweis and Heiman herds are averaging 100 lbs. or close to it because of good nutrition, genetics and cow comfort," Harsdorf said. "Shows like this allow producers and consumers to see how technology has come to our farms and has allowed us to become more productive and more efficient."

Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch reads a proclamation from Governor Scott Walker during the opening ceremony on July 10 at Farm Technology Days.

Faith in farmers

Special guest Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch says Wisconsin government officials could not be "more grateful or respectful" of the labors of state farmers.

"There are a lot of our farmers who have been coming to work essentially for no pay for the past couple of years," she told the crowd. "I want you to know that our administration continues to work hard for you in Washington in order to assure that you will not only continue to lead in Wisconsin's economy, but continue to feed and supply the world."

Kleefisch also shared with showgoers that lawmakers are confident in farmer's ability to do what's right concerning their farms.

"I want you to know that the good folks in state government did not produce an initiative on manure management during yesterday's cabinet meeting," Kleefisch revealed. "We decided to leave that to you all. It's nice that we trust you—the experts at what you do—to tackle the biggest challenges of the future with technology."

While technology has allowed farms to grow and become more productive and efficient, the support system that allows farms to be successful is family, said Marilyn Heiman.

"It's not a 9 to 5 or five-day a week job and it's the family support systems we have that keeps it all going, not just for Farm Technology Days but for every day" Marilyn Heiman said. "It's what gives everyone an incentive to get up and do it all again the next day."

Central location

Located in the center of the state, Farm Technology Days organizers anticipated the central location would bring larger crowds to the event.

MaryAnn Lippert, director of the Northern Office of the Division of Intergovernmental Relations is showered with cranberries in the makeshift cranberry bog at Farm Technology Days.

"While the official attendance numbers are not yet available, Wisconsin Farm Technology Days General Manager Matt Glewen says the crowd has not been (this big) on the first day in many years," said Publicity Committee Chairman Pat Sternitzky.

Many visitors flocked to Innovation Square where a makeshift cranberry marsh and bog gave them an upclose, hands-on look at the county's signature crop.

"I never really gave cranberries much thought until today," said Barb Miller of Dane County. "They were just a side dish on our table at Thanksgiving. I had no idea that 1 in 9 cranberries produced in the world is grown in Wood County. How cool is that? And I got to put on a pair of waders and get down in the water with all that wonderful, red fruit."