Specialty crops will get their time in the spotlight when Wisconsin Farm Technology Days comes to Eau Claire County in 2020.
While about half the revenue generated by the Wisconsin agriculture industry comes from dairy farms, the state also leads the nation in production of snap beans for processing, cranberries and ginseng.
And if you’ve eaten horseradish anywhere in the U.S., chances are it came from Huntsinger Farms in Eau Claire, which will host the 2020 Eau Claire County Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, July 21-23, 2020.
“We’re a small piece of it, but we’re representative of those alternative crops that come from the great state of Wisconsin,” said Eric Rygg, who became president of Eau Claire-based condiment company Silver Spring Foods and horseradish producer Huntsinger Farms in October 2018. “We do horseradish in a big way, and we’ll be showcasing our farm in a couple different ways that will be great exposure for us.
“I think more people will learn about what horseradish is and how we do it. And we’re definitely going to have the most condiments of any show.”
Huntsinger Farms, located on Highway 37 in the town of Brunswick, just southwest of Eau Claire, will host the event from Tuesday through Thursday, July 21-23, 2020. The show was last hosted by Eau Claire County in Augusta in 1992, and two days of the three-day show were canceled because of heavy rains.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” Rygg said. “The No. 1 goal for us is to showcase Eau Claire agriculture and Chippewa Valley agriculture in the best possible light. We’re honored to be able to host it.”
Huntsinger Farms and its subsidiary Silver Spring Foods was founded by Ellis Huntsinger, who is nationally recognized as a pioneer in Horseradish farming, in 1929. Today, Rygg, Huntsinger’s great-grandson, owns the company along with his brother Ryan, a physics professor in New York, and their mother, Nancy Bartusch.
The company both grows and processes its own horseradish. Crops are split between 7,000 acres in Wisconsin — including the old family farm on Highway 37 south of Eau Claire — and 2,000 acres in Minnesota.
Rygg said the Eau Claire County event will include a bus tour of the Huntsinger Farms properties so visitors can get a feel for the crop and the history of the farm. Horseradish will also play a role in the show in Innovation Square, where they planted a plot of the crop in early July.
“Innovation Square is an area where each county gets to put their fingerprints on the show and make it unique,” he said. “You’ll be able to walk amongst the horseradish plants and there will be some features where you can interact with the product and learn more about it.”
Rygg said plans for Innovation Square also feature a partnership with several other agriculture businesses, including Chippewa Valley Bean, Ferguson’s Orchards, Superior Fresh and Marieke Gouda to help tell the area’s agriculture story.
“If we weren’t doing this show, I would be very focused in on our company,” he said. “This has allowed me to look outside and see who else is around in the ag space, and I’ve discovered so many wonderful businesses. It’s been really fun for me.”
Eau Claire County’s Wisconsin Farm Technology Days will offer a semi-tractor and trailer with graphics. They also have commemorative benches for sale that are customizable as a fundraiser leading up to the show.
Huntsinger Farms uses a five- to seven-year crop rotation of corn, soybeans and snap beans to support the production of horseradish in Eau Claire and northern Minnesota. Huntsinger Farms grows and harvests more than 7.5 million pounds of horseradish per year between western Wisconsin and fields near Bemidji, Minn.
Horseradish is harvested twice a year. Crews harvest horseradish in the spring and fall after plants have been in the ground for between 12 and 24 months.
“Horseradish is pretty labor-intensive,” said Huntsinger Companies Vice President of Agricultural Operations Ken Traaseth. “It’s all planted by hand, it’s sorted by hand. It’s harvested with a machine, but every root you harvest has to be touched by the human hand.”
Silver Spring has about 300 employees, most in Eau Claire, but also some in Pennsylvania at its distribution center for Kelchner and a service it owns that delivers seafood and its condiments. They offer about 100 different items across different brands and varying sizes of bottles.
According to UW-Extension Eau Claire County Agriculture Agent Mark Hagedorn, several factors contributed to Huntsinger Farms’ selection as host site, including the farm’s topography and its proximity to Eau Claire. The show has attracted as many as 60,000 people in past years although attendance has been considerably lower the past two years.
Approximately 180 acres surrounding the farm just south of Interstate 94 off Highway 37 will be used primarily for field demonstrations. About a mile and a half south on 37 is another 280 acres that will be home to Tent City, parking and additional field demos, Hagedorn said.
Rygg said he is looking forward to seeing if the extended hours on the Wednesday of the Jefferson County FTD increases attendance at the show. He said they are planning for a day of extended hours at the Eau Claire show that is still in the planning stages but may take advantage of area food trucks and entertainment.
“We hope that will draw in a new crowd and entertain the people who are already there,” he said. “Many farmers now are forced to have day jobs, so it’ll be nice to open the show to more people.
“And with our proximity to Eau Claire, there’s an interest in attracting a non-agriculture audience to invite them out to learn more about agriculture from our county and our state. We’re all affected by it. It’s how we feed ourselves. And some of the innovations coming out of agriculture are great.”
For more information, visit www.wifarmtechnologydays.com/eau_claire.
The 2021 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days will be held at the Jefferson County Fair Park and the 2022 show will be held in Clark County.
The 2021 show, tentatively scheduled for the last week in July, will be organized by Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, Inc., the statewide organization, rather than organized and run by host counties.
The show will again be a county-hosted show with its move to Clark County in 2022. Dates have yet to be established, and the county is currently taking applications for a host farm. For more information, contact Richard Halopka at the Clark County Extension office at 715-743-5121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.