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The crowd was shoulder to shoulder in some exhibit halls, many of the parking lots were full and for the first time in a number of years, people were eating on picnic tables outside the food tent. That's what temperatures in the upper 50s and a great farm show will do.

The annual Wisconsin Public Farm Show is always big in the number of exhibitors (500 or so) and attendees (20,000) as it was again this year.

The WPS Farm Show has long been a farm show that people — exhibitors and ag folks — really like.  Attendees like the commercial exhibits arranged in the four, square airplane hangers, in two large nearby tents and outside on the  concrete. They can walk about at their own pace on pavement from building to building, eat great food from Wisconsin organizations (pork, beef, potato, dairy and others), sit inside the food tent and talk with new and old friends.

I talked with lots of people — most who I didn't know, but knew me from my weekly Wisconsin State Farmer column, my Agri-Dairy Business Letter or WGN radio interviews with Orion Samuelson.

Dairy farmers emotions are supposed to be at a low, low ebb, what with the milk price and labor challenges, but those who I talked with gave little sign of extreme duress, each has their own way of dealing with the challenges and are surviving. I'm amazed at the ingenuity of dairy farmers to adjust, readjust and innovate to survive a scary time. I don't think most people quite realize how smart farmers really are!

I attended the WPS Farm Show on Wednesday – that's usually the biggest day of the three-day event and would guess it was so again. I’ve often wondered why is the second day of a three-day show bigger than the first day.  This show, Dairy Expo and Farm Tech Days all seem to follow that pattern. I've never heard a good answer.

Big challenges

Farmers aren't doing a lot of big buying this year, but are doing a lot of looking. Many families I talked with admitted they might buy one or two small items at the show but nothing big. Eventually we always got to talking about the serious challenges dairy farmers face today. that include: 

** Stable milk markets, especially in light of Dean Foods late February announcement that they were dropping producers (100 plus) in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio last week.

“If Dean Foods can't find markets for their milk, who can?” one farmer asked. “They are among the biggest dairy marketing companies in the country, aren't they, and their milk is everywhere, isn’t it?”

I didn't have a good answer other than suggesting that Dean owns processors almost everywhere which sell directly, under their own names, to consumers. But, it’s a well-known fact that fluid milk drinking has been on a downtrend for years. This means direct sales losses for the company. 

** Milk prices are on everyone’s mind. Are we in an old, old cycle that will eventually turn around? Some old timers who have seen the ups and downs over the years think “yes,” Most dairy producers have no idea, they just have high hopes.

** The future of their Hispanic labor force is on all minds, but no one has a clue as to the future. 

These three concerns have not changed in many months and I’ve written about them (too) many times, but that’s the state of dairy agriculture nationwide. Answers seem to be few, but hope remains prominent.

We’re OK

Mark and Vanna Leichtfuss milk 150 cows at their Milkinaire Dairy near Green Bay. They and their two children Emerson and Everett were touring one of the hangers when I saw Emerson (age 3) hiding out in a calf pen at the Loyal Manufacturing exhibit. In and out he went from pen to pen — I just wished I had his ambition and young legs.

Mark and Vanna started their own, mostly registered, Holstein dairy (20 percent Jerseys) eight years ago on 10 acres. (They do farm 240 acres that is all custom farmed.)  Mark admitted that the dairy situation “was tight” but they were OK. “We concentrate on the cows and complaining doesn’t do any good anyway,” he says.    

Mark said he also works part-time for Select Sires and that helps. They are young farmers with an optimistic view.

Rob Juneau, Farm Show manager at WPS, who lives near Milkinaire Dairy say Mark and Vanna do a great of dairying. “They know how to milk cows,” he says. 

Don ‘t need  milk

I stopped at the Organic Valley Co-op exhibit and talked a bit about their dairy outlook.

“Our February milk price averaged about $27.” Melissa Weyland explained. “We are on a quota system now,” she added and have a $2 per hundred 'inventory management' fee. “No, we're not accepting new producers nor losing current members,” Glenn Hoff says."

The new

I try to find new equipment or programs and the booth with the big sign “Snirt Stopper” stopped me. It turned out that Montie Beyer invented the product – it is a garage door sealing system – and he owns the company.

“This is our first show in Wisconsin,” he says. “We have been exhibiting and selling our bottom seal for 10 years – the side seal is brand new.”

“What makes this different,” I asked, “people have been using rubber to bottom seal garage doors forever? And, why the strange name?” 

The name “Snirt Stopper” combines SNow and dIRT.

“It's made of Kevlar mesh vinyl and remains flexible at 60 below,” he said. “It keeps cold air out and deters rodents with its smell."

 Montie says his bottom and side door sealer 1) saves energy costs; 2) helps to prevent garage doors from freezing to the floor; 3) helps to keep unwanted pests and critters out of your garage; 4) fits uneven conditions of floors 5) is easy to install with self tapping screws.

Beyer says he spent 27 years in the military. “I invented the bottom seal while in the army.” This is the only product like this in the world,” he says.  

The company headquarters is in Fargo, North Dakota and the product is manufactured in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

I don't know how good a product this is but it was new, had an intriguing name and seems to fill a need. Go to Snirtstopper.com or phone Montie at 701-809-8133 for more info. 

Another “new to me” product was found at the GLK Foods booth where longtime ag professional Dieter Harle was telling about feeding sauerkraut juice (from Black Creek) to dairy and beef cattle that will “enhance moisture content, palatability and digestibility of the TMR." For info go to  www.best optionsinc.com.  

A family business

As usual I stopped at the Meyer Manufacturing exhibit and as always found members of the family - in this case Larry Meyer and son Troy - there to meet visitors and answer questions. Visitors never have to wait for someone to check with the boss at the Meyer exhibit — the boss is right there.  

“We had a good 2017 and this year is better so far,” Larry says. “We’ve been on overtime since January." 

The 150 employee company in Clark county makes forage boxes, feeder boxes, manure spreaders, TMR mixers and other material handling equipment. The third generation of the Meyer family is now a part of the business. 

Thanks to Rob Juneau and his WPS staff for presenting another great Farm Show, the 58th.  As visitors often say: “This show ends the big meeting season, now we can look to getting into the field."  

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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