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57 years of farmer information

John Oncken
An auger fluffs the hay or silage as the ”Feed Pusher”  brings the forage close to the  cows so they will eat  more.

“C’mere John, you have to see this. It’s new and people have been lined up to get a close look for two days now.” The man in a hurry and excited about his new piece of equipment was Greg Lueth, Westboro, and super sales rep for ValMetal, the marketer of a long line of farm equipment.

I followed Greg to his exhibit in Hanger A at the WPS Farm Show and yes, there were a half dozen people huddled around the piece of red and white equipment I didn’t immediately recognize.  “It’s a feed pusher,”Lueth,” explained. “It’s a new concept and people have been really curious and interested in it.“

It fluffs

“So big deal,” I responded. “I’ve written about feed pushers for at least four years, many of the dairies milking with robots use them and they work well. “But not as well as this one,” Greg says. “This one uses an auger to push the silage and hay back to the cow and at the same time fluffs the forage making it smell good and more appetizing to the cow. The result is that she eats more and produces more milk  And, that’s the whole idea isn’t it? Other feed pushers just move the forage back to the cow while ours (Pro Feed 2020) fluffs it up as if it was just put in front of the cow.”

Over  500 commercial exhibitors were on hand at the show.

The unit is programmed to follow transponders that determine the manger route the unit follows and can be controlled from a computer or cell phone.

Does it work? I’d bet on it even though I do not have a clue as to the engineering behind it. But, if Greg Lueth say it does, it will. Greg is one of that elite corps of professional ag sales representatives who loves what he does and makes sure his customers are happy.

Since 1961

I’m sure there were dozens of other new products on display at the Farm Show — that’s what these shows are about. The WPS Farm Show dates to 1961, one year after the original Farm Electric and Material Handling Show was held in Madison under the sponsorship of the then Wisconsin Power & Light Company, now Alliant Energy. The whole idea was to encourage farmers to use more electricity by inviting commercial exhibitors to show and explain how electricity could be used on their farm.

Left to right ... Seth and Jacqueline Huizenga hold their daughters, Lindsey (left) and Rosalie. The Brandon-area farmer who milk 85 cows, did a lot of looking around at the Farm Show.

A year later, in 1961 the second Electric and Material Handling Show was initiated in Green Bay under the sponsorship of the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and remained there for 42 years.

About that same time, a third farm show began operation in the Chippewa Falls area but it has long-since passed from the  scene as has the Madison show.

The move to Oshkosh

Over the years the Green Bay Farm Show became the “big show” in the minds of farmers and farmer suppliers drawing huge crowds and jamming all the available exhibit and parking space. Parking especially got to be a serious issue when the renovation of Lambeau Field did away with the big parking lot where the was laid out and the building of a second coliseum next to the old Brown County Arena made space a critical issue.

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, the same sponsor all the decades, made a decision to move the 2003 Green Bay Farm Show to Oshkosh and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) site alongside highway 41 for it’s annual  run.

Tents have been added in recent years to house more exhibits.

Needless to say, the move proved a big success with plentiful parking, four airplane hangars for exhibits and a mid state location continues to draw farmers to look, see and learn about the constantly evolving agriculture.


I’d bet that if my dad, who died in 1984 but had quit milking in about 1965, could walk the Farm Show today, he would be totally mystified and confused as most everything on display was not even in existence during his farming days.

Enjoying the 40 degree weather in lawn chairs a the Farm Show.

Even more dramatic are the changes in agriculture since that first WPS Farm Show in 1961. Consider, 57 years ago:

  •  Bullk milk tanks were just entering dairying, milk cans were on their way out in southern Wisconsin.How many of today’s dairy producers have even seen a can milk truck? Probably very few.
  • Farm planting, tillage and harvesting equipment that will do as much in an hour that would take the tools of 57 years ago days to do. Take the 16 row John Deere Exact Emerge corn planter on display that plants the exact number of kernels, at an exact depth, with the exact amount of fertilizer at 10 mph. I can still see my dad and neighbors planting corn with a two row, converted horse drawn planter, with gallon size seed containers and small fertilizer boxes.
  • There were a few loose housing dairy barns being built 57 years ago. Farmers didn’t like them much so they built stalls with metal dividers and freestalls became the model for today’s dairy barns.
  • The total mixed ration (TMR) was still in the future those years ago, computers now allows dairy ration ingredients to be figured by the ounce.
  • Cell phones were not even thought of at that first Farm Show, same for computers. Today so many pieces of dairy equipment from in-barn cameras to robot milkers to software of all kinds that are based on electronics. And I don’t think I’ve talked to a farmer in five years who doesn’t use a cell phone constantly, often getting or making calls during our conversation.
  • In 1960 the average Wisconsin dairy herd of about 25 cows produced 8,270 pounds of milk per cow per year, today the figure is at 22,700 pounds per cow in 9,400 herds. Wisconsin farmers set corn production records (178 bushels of  per acre ) of corn and soybean (55 bushels  per acre) in 2016, double the yield of 5 decades ago.

A “state of the art” John Deere corn planter.

Farmers learn fast

The result of educating farmers to new technology and services is that they learn fast and well sometimes resulting in more production than can be consumed.  Milk is an example as widely ranging supplies and prices often result in  boom and bust periods.

World Dairy Expo in the fall, the Farm Show in the spring with Farm Technology Days scattered in between makes for a great series of learning opportunities for Wisconsin farmers.  And, if history is a guide, farming will  be entirely different 20 years from now and today’s farmers — by then retired — will look back and wonder how they farmed in such a primitive fashion back in 2017.

I have attended many past WPS Farm shows, Dairy Expos and Farm Tech Days and have yet to see an exhibit, a technology, or a program that  was aimed at farmers seeking less production, at more cost, with more labor, with less income or a poorer life style.

The ValMetal Feed Pusher drew crowds.

“What else can we do“ farmers ask?  “We as farmers produce quality products for consumers as efficiently as we can. Some might say we are too efficient and too good for our own survival although it’s true that at the same time, people in many parts of the world are starving and unable to grow their own food — it’s a dilemma!

At the same time Wisconsin farmers produce milk for 300 kinds of cheeses, great ice cream, prime rib Saturdays, multi-page menus at restaurants, full store shelves of what ever we want, 24 hours a da , full refrigerators and full stomachs for all. Thanks to educated farmers who feed us so good and so well.

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