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The near jammed packed parking lots surrounding the Kalahari Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells were a good indication that many of Wisconsin's corn and soybean growers were not at home on this cold winter day. Rather, they were here in the Dells attending the annual two-day Corn, Soy, Pork Expo being held at the newly expanded Kalahari Convention Center.  

This year, instead of having the commercial exhibitors and their booths lining the hallways in addition to filling a big exhibit room, all the exhibits were erected in the huge new room added since last year.

Bigger and better

The crowd-drawing (over 1,400 people) event was the annual Wisconsin Corn/Soy, Pork Expo, an event that has been happening for many years but seems to get bigger and bigger as time goes on. Interestingly, the Wisconsin Pork Producers, although much smaller in membership numbers, are also a part of the two-day program, most notably with their annual meeting and sponsorship of  the “Porkapalooza" evening reception. 

The two days are filled with activities including a wide array of well-known speakers talking about new technology, current marketing and 2020 production issues. I’m always impressed by the the interest of the attendees at this event in learning about technology and improving their own farming/production systems. 

Togetherness

Some background: Most every Wisconsin food growing or livestock production group has an association or organization to represent their farmer/grower members in areas of information, education and government involvement relating to their specific enterprise.  In this case, the separate corn, soybean and pork grower associations join to put on a first class educational program.

Bigger space

This year the 185 commercial exhibitors were, for the first time, set up in the same room making it more convenient for all. As always the companies change through mergers, new names, consolidations and new products meaning lots of new learning by the production farmers.

Grain growing has changed much and fast in recent years. As one corn grower remarked “we pay far more attention to marketing as cell phones and computers give us instant access to what is happening, not only locally but in Brazil, Argentina and China."

People programs

As is happening at many agricultural meetings these days, the program subject matter often strays far from cropping and machinery to topics impacting the health and the future of the farmer and farm family. An example was the “It’s OK to be not OK,” seminar presented by a farmer, who is a suicide survivor, discussing the mental health challenges farmers can face and how to deal with them. 

Another  was “Succession Planning” and its legal, financial and family challenges that must be faced when the farm moves to the next generation.  

Yet another rather recent movement in grain farming are the huge steel bins being constructed for on-farm storage. That's a far cry from the tiny steel grain bins I grew up with and that still dot the farm countryside. But, those were really used only to store grain for the farm livestock. Nowadays, many farmers find it more economical to store grain on the farm for long periods as part of their marketing planning. The big bins also have led to farmers being trapped inside as the grain drags the farmer (trying to clear a blockage) under, sometimes leading to near suffocation or even death.

Much of the corn grown in Wisconsin never leaves the farm. It's also true that many Wisconsin farmers are milking cows and consider themselves dairymen, not grain producers. Just buying corn seed today is complicated with the various 'traits' (weed and insect elimination as examples) offered in the seed. And, as the built in genetic traits in the seed corn are offered to growers, they often come at a higher price. A farmer explained that seed corn can run from $100 to $300 per bag of 80,000 kernels which will plant two and a half acres. That's why there were several companies offering 'off patent’ seed corn at a lesser cost. One, Sure Flex Hybrids of Jackson, Minnesota, was offering seed corn for $97 per bag. 

The weather

Of course, the weather was the most talked about subject in hallway conversations and I did not hear of any grain producer not complaining about rain during planting and growing seasons, as well as the water and even snow during harvest. In spite of the unruly weather, several farmers admitted they were pleasantly surprised and satisfied with their corn and soybean yields.

Some results

Highlights from the 2019 Final Wisconsin Crop Production Report: 

+ Corn for grain – Total production is estimated at 450 million bushels. This is down 17% from 2018. Wisconsin’s corn for grain yield is estimated at 168 bushels per acre, down 4 bushels per acre from 2018. The U.S. average yield in 2019 is also estimated at 168.0 bushels per acre. 

+ Soybeans – Total state production is estimated 79.9 million bushels, down 24% from 2018. Wisconsin soybean growers averaged 47 bushels per acre, down 1 bushel per acre from 2018. The average yield in 2019 for the United States is estimated at 47.4 bushels per acre. 

+ On Dec. 1, there were 365,000 hogs and pigs in Wisconsin. This is up 14% from the previous year. The total inventory in the United States was up 3% from December 2018. 

+ Wisconsin’s breeding herd accounted for 60,000 head of the total inventory.  99,000 sows farrowed during December 2018 – November 2019. The average pigs saved per litter was a record high 10.96 for the year in Wisconsin. 

As always it was a “learning” two days and for many family members, a mini vacation as well.

A final note

The proposals made by Governor Evers and the Wisconsin Legislature earlier to help farmers are apparently coming up for serious discussion later this week. After much discussion and some promises, the final results should be interesting.

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

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