Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association
Farm Technology Days Brings Farming Community Together During Tough Times
Three years of planning, one host farm, 1,500 volunteers, and over 600 exhibitors in a 70-acre field created a magnificent view and well-run show for the 2019 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days last week. The show took place on the same site it did 35 years ago when it was hosted by the late Bud and Bev Walter. This year, their son Mike and Sarah Walter hosted the show with their children that farm alongside of them, Adam and Heather and Brad and Kristi Walter along with their families.
“The family has been absolutely instrumental to the show,” said LaVern Georgson of Jefferson County’s University of Wisconsin-Extension. “They attended every executive board meeting, countless committee meetings, helped build the Farm Technology Day benches, have been attending events to promote the show for years, planted alfalfa for the show which is not in their crop rotation as grain farmers, and ultimately opened up their home to tens of thousands of people,” he said.
“The Walter family is amazing,” said Amy Listle of the Executive Committee. “They’ve went above and beyond; they’ve done everything we’ve asked and more. From picking up the cost of the food vouchers for all the volunteers over the three-day show, paying for dinner at meetings, allowing us to host media day in their shed, giving up much of their free-time, and even hosting a volunteer appreciation dinner and party following the show,” she added.
The show is organized and run by a large team of volunteers. There are 16 people that make up the executive board and each one of them has built a community of volunteers to help organize the event. During the show there was about 1,500 people that volunteered their time, many of which used their vacation time to make sure the show runs smoothly. Tent city took about one month to set-up and there were dedicated people that worked every day for weeks leading up to the event to create the extremely well planned out tent city.
“The show is all about the people,” said Georgson as he reflects on the show. “We’ve had a lot people doing great things and I truly think we put our best foot forward to showcase Jefferson County,” he said. “Also, we cannot forget about our sponsors, the show would not be possible without all of the companies that offer financial support as well.”
The 70-acres of tent city had everything you could imagine and more. There were exhibitors spread throughout the show with endless amounts of the latest and greatest equipment. In addition, there were two large Agri-Business tents full of exhibitors with booth space. “The show wouldn’t be possible without all of them as well,” Georgson added regarding the exhibitors.
There was everything from equine demonstrations, beef, arts and crafts, drone displays, ride and drive, field demonstrations, activities for kids, food and much more!
For the first time in show history, there was extended show hours on Wednesday, July 24th until 7 pm with reduced admission after 3 pm. Organizers created an event called the Taste of Jefferson County Block Party and had over 15 local breweries and wineries that offered samples as well as some food including cheese, sausage, bacon and more! The entertainment for the evening featured comedian, Charlie Berens of the popular online series, the Manitowoc Minute.
“Charlie was great,” said Peter Curran who helped come up with the idea and helped organize the event and entertainment. “He was very down to earth and hilarious,” he added as he helped chauffeur him around the show to interact with exhibitors.
“We don’t have the exact numbers yet for Block Party attendance, but we do know there was over 700 paying attendees,” said Melissa Gerner, executive board member. “For a first-time beer & wine fest, the vendors all sang high praises of the event which is great too,” she added.
Another creative idea to try to get more youth to the show was Ag Career Day on Tuesday, July 23rd. High school students from across Wisconsin boarded school buses coined the Cheesehead Express to come to the event. There was over 300 students from 36 FFA and 4-H chapters that took part in an interactive scavenger hunt that took them throughout the 70-acre show.
“Ag Career Day was a great opportunity for my students to experience Farm Technology Days and talk to industry professionals about the career opportunities. The scavenger hunt was interactive and just what my students needed to get them out of their comfort zone and ask and answer questions,” said Whitney Rathke, Agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor for Random Lake High School. “I hope this event can continue,” she added.
Despite all these efforts to increase attendance and beautiful weather, attendance was not as great as organizers had hoped. The show attracted tens of thousands versus the 40,000 they anticipated.
“There is a variety of opinions on it, but I think the really good weather might have worked against us,” said Georgson. “The week prior was hot and humid with severe storms leaving many people in northern Wisconsin without power until recently. In addition, I think with cooler temperatures and sunny skies farmers may have been busy catching up on field work, like the common saying, you have to make hay when the sun shines” he added.
It’s been a challenging growing season joined with a couple of bad years for farmers. It’s not just dairy or grain, all of agriculture has been impacted by very low commodity prices and rising expenses. Despite the challenging times, Farm Technology Day organizers and volunteers report they are happy to have been a part of it.
“The true success for our show is the sense of community that has been built” said Tracy Brandel, member of the executive board. “I think I speak for everyone involved in the show when I say it’s been a great opportunity to meet new people and grow new friendships. The relationships formed and memories built will last a lifetime,” she added.
Jefferson County organizers are happy to hand the torch to Eau Claire County as they host the 2020 Farm Technology Days show on July 21-23rd.