WFTD: Come and gone

John Oncken
Randy and Renee Ebert and their family worked long and hard to successfully host the 2017 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days at their dairy near Algoma.

The big show is over and about all that remains from the three-day 2017 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days are some of the more permanent buildings now being deconstructed, long streets of wood shavings put down after Wednesday’s rain, about 60 acres of flattened alfalfa field and of course the memories. 

Extension Agent and the show’s executive secretary Aerica Bjurstrom says the county did a good job showcasing its vibrant agricultural community, which employs about a quarter of the county's workforce by providing over 2,600 jobs. She also thanked the 1,850 volunteers  for making this event possible."

“After three days, the Executive Committee for Kewaunee County Farm Technology Days 2017 is proud to report the event at Ebert Enterprises was an overall success and listed some highlights:

Wagon rides were available to haul people around the huge tent city.

-- Kewaunee County is the first to host Wisconsin Farm Technology Days and have more individuals attend the three-day event than the county’s total population. 
-- Organizers were excited to learn the first day of the show attracted over 10,000 visitors, the highest attendance on day one in several years.  
-- An all-time record of nearly 1,900 volunteers from Kewaunee County and the surrounding areas came together to work on 18 committees and subcommittees.
-- All 1,000 of the Kewaunee County Farm Technology Days commemorative toy, a Gehl 800 Forage Harvester, were sold out completely before the show opened. 
-- A fundraising goal of $500,000 was exceeded from in-kind donations alone due to the overwhelming support of local businesses and families of the 2017 show.  
-- Tram rides to tour Ebert Enterprises farm were enjoyed by over 50 percent of attendees.  
-- 15,000 hamburgers and cheeseburgers were served over the three-day period, including 11,250 bowls of ice cream.
Executive Committee chair Amber Hewett and host farm owners Randy and Renee Ebert have expressed their overall satisfaction with how the show went. They are excited to learn new friends were made and the grounds were a true place of networking and connection for those  in agriculture.  

I attended the last day of the show and did quite a bit of walking and talking and considerable thinking.

Looking back

The thinking centered around Wisconsin Farm Technology (and Farm Progress) Days of years gone by. How it  got started In the early 1950s when, farseeing agricultural leaders in the industry and at UW-Madison searched for a way to bring modernization to farming. They came up with the idea of a big farm exhibit that moved each year to a different location in the state. They wanted farmers to see new machinery in action and to be able to talk with educators one on one in a farm setting.

Although the word "networking" was yet to be coined, the ag leaders knew that if farmers interacted with other farmers, the result would be education. And they believed that it should be a joint effort, involving the UW, private industry and the local farming community within a county.

The first show

Wisconsin Farm Progress Days was born in 1954 with the first show scheduled in Waupaca County. It  was rained out but restaged in 1955 at the same location and has been held every year since.

My first such show was in 1960 in Marshfield at the UW Ag Research Station - of which I remember nothing except that it was a new event and I was a young county agent in adjoining Clark county. 

Cows and calves have enjoyed back scratching brushes for only a few years, just think of the centuries they had nothing like this.

I well remember the 1969 show (I was a committee volunteer and TV Farm Director at WFRV in Green Bay) at the Gene Haen farm just south of Green Bay with its new indoor beef feeding operation. The elevated walkway above the several pens in a big feeding barn drew a lot of viewers.   

How many people?

I also know that crowd numbers over the years were at best wild guesses, often times arrived at by polling media members at the end of the day. By 2001, the crowd figures had gotten out of hand even though exhibitors knew the numbers were inflated. In 2002, Richland county hosted the show. An actual count was attempted bringing the listed crowd numbers down to near 30,000 where they have since remained.

I wandered tent city and noted a goodly crowd on that Thursday afternoon but was surprised to find the three Agribusiness tents I visited with rather sparse crowds and the very wide aisles made the crowd appear even smaller. 

New ideas

The Revolution Plastics exhibit had a number of visitors interested in the plastics recycling service. Farmers have sought a logical way to dispose of the white silage bags for years - maybe this is the answer.

Maverick Drone Systems sells drones in many sizes ranging from 8 inches big to commercial sizes.

The Maverick Drone exhibit was interesting with several Drones on display.  Adam Shaw, owner and CEO of the Savage, Minnesota company, showed me a tiny 8-inch drone called the “Spark.”  

“This is a recreational drone,” he says. “You can film your house, farm, family get togethers and such." 

His company sells a variety of drones ranging in price from about $500 to $5,700. Drones are increasingly  finding uses in the ag world in crop and soil management, he explains. 

He also says that he sponsors a top drone racing team. 

Eating out

While having lunch at a food tent, I noted seven people at the next table: my thought was ‘this has to be a family. And it was, it was also the first time any of them had ever attended a Wisconsin Farm Tech Days. 

A sort of family lunch as (left side of table) John and Leah Ledvina and Joan Click and (right side) Joel Franke, Dennis Click, Travis Franke and Moriah Ledvina.  The Ledvinas milk 80 cows at Luxemburg and Joel Franke is a DVM at Valley Vet Clinic, Seymour.  Moriah Ledvina and Travis Franke will be married this fall. This was the first time any of them had attended WFTD.

The future?

What is the future of Farm Technology Days? I don’t know. But, I do know that farm numbers are only a small fraction of what they were in 1954 and education is now done in many new ways: Internet, webinars, and other forms of social media puts information about most anything in any ones hands instantly and at little cost. Plus, every ag company is staffed with strong advisors.  

I also know that 60 acres of tent city means lots of walking - too much walking! 

A farmer friend commented, “I just can’t see everything, it’s too big - that’s why I like the Oshkosh Farm Show.’ 

“This started as a farm show and remains a farm show; that's why we exhibit," a longtime farm equipment exhibitor commented. "City folks aren't customers."  

Yet, it’s also true that the show now woos non farmers with events such as a big horse show and a huge antique tractor and heritage equipment display. 

Well done

Without doubt, the Ebert family are outstanding farmers, organizers and managers and did a great job in hosting the event and opening their farm to the public. The volunteers worked long, hard and oh so well in putting the big show together and carrying it out. Congrats to all. 

Next year FTD is in Wood county in the exact middle of the state and easily accessible to all farmers. I look forward to it!

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