It didn’t take long for dirt roads in a field south of Eau Claire to become bustling avenues once visitors, exhibitors and volunteers arrived at the state’s largest agricultural show last week.
Opening ceremonies Tuesday kicked off the event, including remarks from Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski, and Farm Technology Days representatives. The host family of Huntsinger Farms, owned by Nancy Bartusch and her sons Eric and Ryan Rygg, was also recognized for their contributions.
After the show, Eric Rygg said in a statement, “Our family is so proud that Huntsinger Farms was able to host Farm Tech Days this year after it was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020.
“It’s been amazing to work with so many farms and companies in the area to showcase Chippewa Valley’s diverse and world class agriculture ecosystem.”
From day one, attendees were eager to start taking in everything Farm Technology Days has to offer. And the estimated show attendance numbers over all three days, July 20-22, proved that enthusiasm didn’t wane over the course of the show.
The last Farm Technology Days in 2019 in Jefferson County disappointed many with low turnout. That wasn’t the case this time around. According to initial estimates, more than 52,000 visitors attended over the course of the show, with more than 18,000 on the first day alone.
At least 3,837 people took part in the the show’s bused farm tours of Huntsinger Farms, Nellie’s Holsteins Dairy Farm and Ferguson’s Orchards, according to data released by the show on Friday.
More than 10,000 youth and families came through the exhibits in the Youth and Career Discovery Zone.
The show required 1,532 volunteers to make everything possible.
“We built it and they came,” said Mike Gintner, chair of the Eau Claire County Executive Committee for the show.
“We are still tallying all the numbers, but the early reports exceeded even our aggressive expectations,” he said in a statement after the show’s conclusion.
With its expansive offerings, Farm Technology Days offered something for everyone who came to the show. In addition to the farm tours and the youth area, animal exhibits and shows, a ride-and-drive area, food tents, stage shows, the latest farm technology, a heritage area with older equipment and more could all be found spread across the massive site.
Tent City at the heart of the show grounds alone covered 80 acres. The full site spanned 270 acres.
In Innovation Square, which featured diverse area ag businesses, Charles Wachsmuth welcomed people to stop by for a chat about Chippewa Valley Bean, the world’s largest grower and processor of red kidney beans.
“We’re preaching the gospel of kidney beans today,” said Wachsmuth, who is responsible for sales and marketing for the family-owned business.
Wachsmuth said that Farm Technology Days was a great opportunity for Chippewa Valley Bean to “say we’re here” because despite the company’s global status, many people in the region don’t know of the company’s presence or what they do.
Though it was still early in the show when he spoke on July 20, Wachsmuth said he already had conversations with people interested in growing for the company as well as with other attendees interested in learning more about the company or topics like soil health.
Chippewa Valley Bean was joined in Innovation Square in the middle of the grounds by host farm Huntsinger Farms and its subsidiary Silver Spring Foods, Superior Fresh, Marieke Gouda and Ferguson’s Orchards.
Chippewa Valley Bean, Huntsinger Farms (horseradish), and Superior Fresh (aquaponics with salmon and greens) are all world leaders in their respective industries. Ferguson’s is one of the Midwest’s largest apple growers, and Marieke Gouda has earned numerous awards, including internationally, for its cheese.
While Innovation Square exhibitors were selected to highlight the regional agricultural diversity near Eau Claire, more than 500 other exhibitors were also on hand to put on a spotlight on agricultural innovation. Some exhibitors were Farm Technology Days regulars, while others were exhibiting at the show for the first time.
If it weren’t for the one-year pandemic postponement that pushed the Eau Claire County show from 2020 to 2021, Melanie Mader wouldn’t have been standing in an exhibitor booth inside of the Rural Event Center.
After all, Mader’s Farm only began selling their first goat milk products last October, making a delayed Farm Technology Days into an ideal opportunity for the new business.
The Mader family has had goats for five years, Mader said. The goats were originally obtained for 4-H and FFA projects, but before the COVID-19 pandemic fully hit last year, the Maders decided to start milking the goats.
Mader said she was excited to be at Farm Technology Days — for the first time since high school — and have the chance to promote their products. Early in the show, she said she hoped to make through the three days with the stock they had.
“I’m hoping we have enough,” Mader said.
While Mader’s supply chain comes directly from the farm, other exhibitors faced pervasive supply chain hiccups that made it difficult or impossible for some to fully showcase their wares during Farm Technology Days.
Lee Proctor of Danuser, a manufacturer of skid steer and tractor attachments, is familiar with those struggles. But he did have equipment on display as he showcased Danuser products alongside distributor Edney Distributing.
“We pulled it off,” Proctor said. But “it came with some challenges.”
While Proctor said the Fulton, Missouri-based company was fortunate to manufacture a lot of what goes into their products, they do have to rely on outside sources for some things.
But despite the challenges the supply chain, Proctor, who was at Farm Technology Days for the first time, still expressed optimism about the show itself thanks to the high number of attendees, the diversity of products on display and the good conversations he’d already had early in the show.
And based on the early post-show data, that optimism was well-warranted.