Ag meeting season kicks off with Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic

John Oncken

After a month or so hiatus the farm meeting season is back in gear. Many farm organizations schedule their annual meetings and conferences from mid-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 Wisconsin Crop Management Conference and before that the Wisconsin Fertilizer, Aglime & Pest Management Conference. The two and a half day conference is hosted by the Wisconsin Agribusiness Association (WABA), UW Extension and the UW-Madison College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS).  

Trade show

Over 1,200 registered attendees had a lot to look at and learn about at the two-day event earlier last 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. They represented a cross section of the state's agribusiness wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors and dealers of cropping equipment, products, services and programs. Some 100 major manufacturers and marketers of agricultural products and services created exhibits for the Trade Show for the dealers and suppliers who work directly with farmers.

The Agribusiness Classic leads off the ag meeting season.

Although I do attend a good many farm meetings and visit farming operations of many kinds, I’ll admit to being very ignorant as to the modern fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides available to farmers today. In fact, I’d guess the rapidly advancing ag technology leaves many (maybe most) farmers shaking their heeds wondering what is what and why and how. That’s why farm product retailers employ knowledgeable advisors and consultants who work directly with farmers in their planning of cropping programs. And, the consultants and advisors must be on a continuous education track — including this conference — to keep up to date.                 

Fast changes

This AgriBusiness Classic really emphasizes how farming is ever-changing and at a rapid pace with the new names of some companies as mergers continue. The new products on display and in the 60 (or so) seminars offered over the two-and-a-half days. 

The seminars offered subject matter ranging from the benefits of cover crops to foliar fungicide use to understanding mycotoxins to operating your business during economic challenging times to raising industrial hemp and more.

Need to know

Walking the exhibit floor and viewing the new (and maybe) better products, services and equipment being used by agriculture these days is more than a bit befuddling. One company brochure talks of its pHuse product : “a nonioic, multi-functional adjuvant designed to prevent alkaline hydrolysis by lowering pH of spray solutions. Its advantages include: low-foam penetrant enhances activity and uniform coverage; prevents alkaline hydrolysis by lowering pH as an acidifier; improves deposition and reduces drift and is a nonionic, multi-functionl adjuvant.” 

I guess I could figure that all out but I’d rather have a supplier who could explain in plain English. And they most certainly can do that.

A field sprayer that will cover 120 feet at a pass.

Then there are the huge spray rigs that can cover 120 (or more) feet at a pass. You’ve probably met them on the highway and wondered if you could pass each other. Tires head-high tall and the driver seat high above ground make an imposing sight. 

Contrast these with the barrel mounted on a farm tractor feeding the nozzles on maybe an 8 to 10 foot pipe of some years ago. And, with the driver passing directly through the pesticide worrying if it would affect his health. Note: I had a close friend who had those thoughts and did die young from throat cancer.         

Weed killers today applied in ounces per acre in contrast with the pints or gallons per acre of a couple decades ago are the norm. Even more challenging are the concerns for human safety and the rules and regulations that go with them.  

Doing more faster

During my long career of attending farm meetings and working in agriculture, I’ve yet to attend a meeting or talk to a farmer who was seeking a way to add more labor to their farming operation — farming is always about doing more with less expense, more efficiently. And at this event and the others to follow, those themes are everywhere.         

“Of course, that’s what we all do, isn’t it?” an exhibitor pointed out. “Look back 25 years, we couldn’t even guess as to how we fertilize, and manage pests and soils today. What will the next 25 years bring? They too will be new and different and better.” 

20 mule team

By chance I noted a promotional brochure someone left on the lunch table with a black cover and the words; “20 Mule Team Borax.” I hadn’t seen or heard those words for many decades since we heard them uttered as the introduction to a favorite radio program called “Death Valley Days” a sort of western type thriller that ran from 1930 to 1950 and then another 20 years on TV. (At one point Ronald Reagan was the host announcer.)

Borax  has been mined in Death Valley for over 100 years by the Rio Tinto company who are again attending farm show,

I found the Rio Tinto (owner of the Borax company) booth and was brought up to date on the company by Wendall Boehlje, sales agronomist that, yes indeed, this was the same company that sponsored the old Death Valley Days radio program.     

“Rio Tinto has been mining borax in Death Valley, California since 1881,” he began.  They used teams of 20 mules to haul wagon loads of borax 165 miles to the nearest railroad, thus the familiar 20 Mule Team Borax logo that was so well known for so many years to radio and TV listeners. Today the company operates California’s biggest open pit mine and supplies 30 percent of the worlds refined borates.

“Yes, this is our first year back at a farm show,” Boehlje says. "Boron is a critical element for many crops and our company is a leading supplier. A few years ago Turkey entered the boron market with the plan to be the major supplier. But, their product is unrefined and carries impurities. It is also less water soluble and has a high dust content.

"Our refined borates have many advantages and has been used and tested for many years. So, yes we are back at farm shows to remind suppliers and farmers of our quality products,” he concluded.          

Now I know some more history and am again surprised what one can find out by asking a few questions.         

Low key

The Wisconsin AgriBusiness Association (WABA) lists its aims as: “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 kinds including this annual Agribusiness Classic.      

Tom Bressner, executive director of WABA says his members look for a better  year in 2020.

The WABA and its co-sponsors UW Extension and the UW-Madison College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS) who provide the technical content are 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. 

Tom Bressner, Executive director of  the WABA  felt that attendance was about steady with last year which is good considering the weather and economic conditions.  

What are your members talking about, I asked?  

“Of course, the mentioned weather that caused problems at the beginning, middle and end of the crop year, the economy where many farmers have financial challenges and hemp,”  Bressner summarized. “They are all looking at hemp as a potential money making crop in Wisconsin. We need a money-making crop but hemp is still rather unknown as to growing marketing and uses."         

The ag meeting season got off to a good start, with the AgriBusiness Classic, now comes the DBA Dairy Strong, Corn-Soy-Pork Expo, PDPW Business Conference and many more. See you there!

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached  at 608-572-0747, or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.