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"It does appear that the  number of attendees is down slightly and that there are a few less commercial exhibitors this year,” Tom Bressner, Executive Director of cosponsor Wisconsin Agri Business Association (with UW Ag Extension) observed to me as we wandered the exhibit floor of the Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic. “Blame it on the bad farming economy that impacts both farmers and their suppliers.”

Indeed, the farm economy — especially  dairying —  has been in a doom and gloom mode for several years meaning less buying on all fronts but the arrival of a new meeting and greeting season brings with it new optimism and encouragement.           

Meeting season

Many farm organizations schedule their annual meetings from early January (after the holiday season) to about spring cropping season. Many combine trade shows with their business meetings and often the trade shows featuring exhibits and educational sessions get top billing.   

Always the first major show of the year is the Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic, formerly the WI Crop Management Conference and before that the Wisconsin Fertilizer, Aglime & Pest Management Conference. 

Some 1,200 registered attendees, representing a cross section of the state's agribusiness manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and dealers of cropping equipment, products, services and programs had a lot to look at and absorb during the two-day event earlier this week at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.  Note - this event is not aimed at farmers, rather at the many suppliers who work closely with crop farmers.            

Ever changing         

This show really emphasizes how farming is ever-changing and changing at a rapid pace with the new names of some companies as mergers continue. The new products on display and in the 70 (or so) seminars offered over the two-and-a-half days.    

The voice

The Wisconsin AgriBusiness Association (WABA) is a rather low-key organization to most farmers in that its aims are “To represent, provide programs and services, educate, train, manage regulatory and legislative affairs, and to be a strong unifying voice for the supplier segment of agriculture.”      

Among the programs WABA offers are: safety and health training; custom applicator training; grain grading; leadership development and education and training services of many kind sand the annual Agribusiness Classic.        

Before going to the field

It’s interesting to walk the exhibit floor and view the new (and maybe) better products, services and equipment being used in agriculture these days. An exhibit that was very popular with attendees was the Jefferson-based Insight FS booth where they were showing their sprayer simulator that is used to train custom applicators in big sprayer operations before ever going on the road or into the field. 

The setup included a sprayer cab mockup with several big TV screens. There are five modules ranging from driving on a highway facing traffic to setting the booms to operate.

 Angie Greving, Marketing Specialist at Insight FS explains why they have the simulator. “We have 53 full-time applicators at Insight FS and believe it is very important to keep up with the latest training technology. This can put our applicators at our 25 locations in the seat of a simulator year-round before being in the seat of a real machine in the field.”                               

“The simulator also put our applicators in potentially dangerous situations that they must maneuver through, like angry drivers on the road to the field. This is something that you hope they never face in real life, but can be reality for any equipment on the road today. 

"Why are you at this show" was my question.

“We are always looking for applicator candidates and find that we get a lot of interest when we bring the simulator to shows. Recruiting has been an unexpected bonus with this machine. We purchased it in July of 2018. And this was the third show it has been to.”

Not new technology

The simulator reminds me of those often portrayed in pilot training (for decades) and I know my son uses such equipment for training at his John Deere dealership in North Dakota. It’s new technology in the applicator industry, Greving says. 

Noticeable at the show were the increasing number of names of companies and products based on fanciful names that take some learning to remember. Corteva is one that had me fooled; It’s the new name of the former ag divisions of DuPont and Dow, the two huge companies that have merged. Then there are Engenia, Lucento, Ethos and 3RIVE (thrive) and more. The idea is gaining attention of course, but....? 

A family company

Over the years I’ve noted that Rock River Laboratory  is usually an exhibitor at farm shows but I never really knew who they were — so I thought it time I found out.

It turns out that Rock River Laboratory dates to 1976 when Don Meyer, a UW geology graduate, and his wife Karen Meyer and his parents, started a soil testing laboratory at his parents farm near Watertown. The goal was “to fulfill an agriculture industry need for quality soil analysis.”       

Son Zachery Meyer, director of operations at the company was at the show and traced the company history for me.

“It began with soil testing, added feed and forage testing in the late 70’s and was the first ag laboratory to use Near Infrared forage (NIF) analysis in 1982, The company now has 18 locations in the US and operates in Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Chili.     

Rock River Laboratory serves retailers who serve farmers and will provide a soil sampling team if needed.   

It appears that the family owned company will remain so, an increasing rarity in this era of change. Zachery Meyer is the second generation to be a part of the company although he admits he had no plans to do so with a Journalism degree from UW-Milwaukee. “But, when the opportunity to come back arose, I did,”he says.  

Other things to see       

- The huge spray rigs now used are so big as to be almost scary. Tires head-high tall, 120-foot booms and the driver seat high above ground make an imposing sight. 

- Weed killers applied in ounces per acre rather than pints or gallons are the norm. Changes in fertilizer application and equipment are hard to believe. It takes an expert to understand them.  

- Even more challenging are the concerns for human safety and the rules and regulations that go with them.     

The WABA  is indeed at the cutting edge of agriculture, offering programs of many kinds, leading ag companies to the crop production by farmers, of safe, healthy, readily available  food for consumers in the US and beyond. A great cause, indeed. 

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

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