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Perhaps it was a combination of perfect weather, a location in almost exactly the dead center of the state or the urge by dairy producers to take a day off from chores and the gloomy dairy atmosphere.   Whatever the reason(s) the 2018 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days drew major crowds to each of its three day s in Wood county.

While each of the 65 annual Wisconsin Farm Technology (Progress) Days have utilized eager and valuable local support in their organization and conducting of the event, crowds have varied in size for reasons such as weather, location, farming economics of the day  and reasons unknown.  

All came together

Fortunately, everything came together this year and happiness reigns on all levels from organizers to exhibitors to attendees. Logically there was probably not a lot of buying going on what with the depressed dairy and grain prices.

Exhibitors I talked with said they were busy pretty much all of the three days,  talked to more people than they had for several years and were really pleased.  They also said that there is always a lot of optimism in the farming community  and that farmers did a lot of looking, asking, collecting literature and taking notes for the “good days” sure to come. 

And, as a couple of sales representatives in a farm equipment explained: “Remember, farming goes on, even during a bad economy and things must be continually  repaired, remodeled or replaced.”

Too big for walking it all

I’ll admit to not doing a lot of walking around the 70 acre tent city site this year — my ancient and ailing knees didn’t allow it —  besides, I never, ever did cover the huge tent city exhibit area in one day, at any of the events even when I was in tip-top physical condition — it’s just too big. In fact, just 10 acres smaller than the entire 80 acre farm I grew up on.  

Better tents

I did spend time in the three AgriBusiness tents that for the first time in my recollection, were a real pleasure to visit.  A rearrangement of the booths in larger tents than previous years made for shorter walks, exhibits closer together, narrower aisles and less open space. The result was three big tents with people walking and talking closer together and a generally more friendly, active sort of  exhibit area.

My first stop after parking at the show was the Fleet Farm Equine arena to renew acquaintances with Randy Meyer who was again exhibiting his 10 Belgian Horse  Hitch and John Schottler with his Milk Buds pony hitch.

10 big horses 

Randy Meyer farms near Loyal and has been exhibiting — for many years — 10 Belgian horses (owned by various members of his family) at fairs and shows. He uses an unusual hitch arrangement: there is a lead horse followed by a team of two, ahead of a trio of three trailed by a quartet of four horses, thus forming a pyramid hitch.  

I’m always in awe of the huge height and size of these Belgians and when they come roaring around the arena it’s a spectacular sight. For sure, these horses are so very different from the work horses we had on the farm when I was a youngster. 

Eight ponies

John Schottler, owner of the “Milk Buds” eight-pony hitch was harnessing his team for an afternoon performance in the arena and as usual was drawing a crowd of onlookers. I remember first seeing the Milk Buds many years ago at World Dairy Expo, when John, his wife Georgine and several of their children were singing while circling the grounds — and drawing a big crowd.

I later visited the Schottler dairy farm at Somerset, toured the large farm in a wagon pulled by ponies, John driving, with a dog — who had jumped into the wagon when John had mentioned the word “tour” sitting next to me.  I also learned at that time  that the Schottlers were one of the first (maybe the first) large dairies in Wisconsin.  

First time

This year I spent touring some of the non farming equipment exhibits that I never got around to seeing in past years. One stop was the “Future Generations” tent (a place I’d never before visited) and saw some things I wouldn’t ordinarily see: the 1/16th scale model farmstead was a big attraction for youngsters (boys especially) who were opening the tiny doors and comparing the buildings to their own farms.  A few feet away, youngsters — girls mainly — were making crowns out of paper under the direction of a group of older girls.  

There was a representative of the Mead Wildlife Area in Wood County burying insects in a tub of sand for youngsters to find, thus leading to a discussion about the environment and on the stage Kathy McGrath, Port Edwards, was telling a large and very interested audience about Monarch butterflies and how they could join in the nationwide effort to save them and increase their numbers.

Outside the Future Generation pavilion I noted an unusual sight: a youngster was being hoisted high off the ground on a rope attached to a sort of scaffold. It turned out to be an exhibit sponsored by the Wisconsin Arborist Association aimed at informing young people about potential careers in the tree care industry.  

I again noted that show-goers included a large number of families with babies in arms, strollers and coaster wagons and of course a great many long-retired farmers. The youngsters will not remember the trip but the oldsters are looking at machinery and equipment that is "out of this world" and remembering the now primitive equipment they had used to make hay, fill silo and pick corn.

Farm Technology Days is the kind of a show that brings back vivid memories to older visitors of their farming days back to the 1950s and ‘60s when farm work was done with smaller, slower and, by today's standards, rather lower-tech equipment. At the same time, the old timers realize that while the work required more hand labor, hard work and slower machinery, it got done.

Many of the granddads look at the huge, computerized and very expensive equipment as mysteries and something only for the few, while their sons are in back of the machine talking to sales reps about the technology, trade-ins, financing and the possibility of buying one when the times get better.

Always the milk price

As in recent years, the main subject of conversation at the show among farmers and suppliers was the milk price. I was asked by several  farmers what I thought was going to happen on the milk price issue and when will it get better? Unfortunately, being a columnist does not grant one much insight into such weighty issues. On the other hand, the world's best trained dairy economists don't have much of a clue either!

In spite of the high tech systems and products used in modern farming and on display at Farm Tech Days, the heritage equipment display at the show draws a big audience and this year the Hart-Parr Oliver reunion was an added attraction and a crowd pleaser for the dark green equipment faithful.  

So much to see, so much walking to do and so little time summarizes my one day visit to Farm Tech Days 2018. Congrats to all involved, you did so good!

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

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