GRELLTON — No matter what they were selling, from massive farm equipment to alpaca wool socks, exhibitors at the 2019 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days said they weren’t impressed by the number of people in attendance.
Across the board, vendors spread throughout the 70-acre “tent city” at Walter Grain Farms in Grellton said the people traffic during the three-day event had been slow.
Even the cream puff sales were down, according to food vendor Tim Brunk. The show’s Executive Board’s goal was to sell 10,000 pastries, but Brunk said they’d only sold 5,000 as the event wound down during the afternoon of July 25.
Official attendance numbers weren’t calculated yet, but toy salesman David Dudduck estimated about 10,000 people turned out, far fewer than the 40,000 anticipated visitors.
Even so, vendors said they were still able to reach customers and the show overall was good for business.
Hannah Sobojinski, who works for cattle processor JBS, said there were long periods of time when nobody would stop by her tent.
“Honestly, it was a lighter crowd,” Sobojinski said.
“It came and went; sometimes it was busy and then there’d be a lull. Wednesday was our best day, but I feel pretty good about a lot of potential customers.”
Like Sobojinski, Watertown alpaca farmer Georgia Meyer said attendance was low, but she managed to sell enough of her products.
“It was very slow,” said Meyer, whose hand-made wool socks have been to both the North and South Poles. “I did pretty good. I like to sell and alpaca is unique.”
Some sellers of products that are massive investments for farmers, such as John Deere tractor salesmen Nick Flies and Rob Rippchen, said they were just happy to showcase their new toys.
“It’s been slow,” John Deere salesman Nick Flies said. “But it’s always good to have an opportunity to talk to customers and show off our latest and greatest technology.”
Yet others were much more blunt about how the agricultural expo went. Ram Truck salesman Chris Walker said he wasn’t happy at all with the turnout.
“There was nowhere near enough people here,” Walker said. “When this was more north, it was awesome.”
Scott Schneider, chairman of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days’ Executive Board, said he knows turnout wasn’t great, but he hoped vendors were able to be successful this week.
“Attendance, you would like to see better,” Schneider said. “But I think people had meaningful discussions with customers.”
While vendors all agreed they would have liked to see many more visitors, the explanations ranged far and wide.
“Nobody has a good explanation,” Roger Kaminski, of Central Ag Supply Inc., said.
Steve Kindshi, a Tracy Seeds salesman, said he thought the attendance was low due to the time of year.
He said a lot of the farm crowd was busy with alfalfa harvests or dealing with the recent storms in Northern Wisconsin.
Kindshi added that competing with the Dane and Rock counties’ fairs the same week might have kept people away and trying to attract Milwaukee and Madison residents didn’t work the way planners had hoped.
“If this was held in September, you’d have better attendance,” Kindshi said. “You can’t cater a farm show to city folks.”
Lots of vendors, including the alpaca farmer Meyer, said they thought the low turnout was because of the state of the agricultural industry in 2019.
“A lot has to do with issues with the farms,” Meyer said. “I’m also disappointed Governor (Tony) Evers didn’t show up. Farming is Wisconsin’s business.”
Walters Buildings salesman Jarrod Duel agreed with Meyer, saying that the farming industry was in the toilet this year.
“Farmers don’t have the money to be spending at something like this,” Duel said.
This isn’t the first Farm Technology Days rodeo for many of the vendors, with some coming to more than a decade of expos. That meant many of them have a long memory of much busier shows.
“Marshfield last year was phenomenal,” Rick Craanen of JBS said. “This year wasn’t a bad show, but quieter.”
Schneider, who spent the last three years working on the show, qualified 2019 as a successful show despite the turnout issues.
“Operationally, it went very well; there were very few issues,” Schneider said.
“I think we can label this as a successful show. There’s always something to learn, improvements to be made. You always have to roll with some punches.”
As the tents get packed up and life at the Walter Grain Farms returns to normal, Jefferson County will need to take stock and figure out what needs to be changed for two years from now when Farm Technology Days returns to the county at Jefferson County Fair Park, according to Dudduck, the toy salesman.
“There are definitely changes to be made for 2021,” Dudduck said.