Looking ahead to July 2020, when Eau Claire County will host the annual Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, local organizers aren’t concerned by reports of low attendance at the 2019 show in Jefferson County.
Eau Claire-area organizers point to weather and a slightly smaller agricultural community as likely factors in the drop in attendance.
Farm Technology Days, held in varying Wisconsin counties at a host farm each year, usually draws between 35,000 and 45,000 people over three days, said Matt Glewen, the event’s statewide general manager.
Jefferson County organizers anticipated about 40,000 people for 2019, The Country Today reported in July. Organizers are still tallying official attendance numbers, but audience sizes at Walter Grain Farms on July 23-25 were down “a little bit from typical,” Glewen said Aug. 1.
Bob Panzer, 2020 FTD executive committee vice chair, isn’t concerned about lower-than-usual attendance in Jefferson County.
He’s expecting around 30,000 people for the Eau Claire County show, Panzer said.
More family farms in northwestern and central Wisconsin — and uniquely local agricultural showcases — will draw more attendees in Eau Claire County, Panzer said.
“Our programming will emphasize local foods, emphasize innovation. (We’ll) look at orchards, dairy, horseradish and eating locally,” Panzer said.
Eau Claire County will host the annual three-day outdoor show on July 21-23, 2020, gathering farmers, exhibitors and agriculture professionals.
Shrinking income for Wisconsin farmers is on organizers’ radar, Panzer said: “But our programming we’re going to do is going to help quite a bit.”
Low attendance in Jefferson County also isn’t worrying John Leary, executive committee chairman for the Eau Claire County FTD.
“We could always have a rain event, but we’ve got support throughout the county, from surrounding counties,” Leary said. “I’m pretty confident we’re going to have a strong turnout up here.”
Past local FTD shows have seen strong attendance, Leary said, including Barron County show in 2013 and Chippewa County in 2004, when the show was called Farm Progress Days.
A rainy week before the Jefferson County FTD and sunny weather the week of the show meant some farmers were likely making hay, combining wheat and working in their fields during the show, Glewen said.
“The exhibitors I talked to were disappointed in the attendance, but not all that surprised,” Glewen said. “They’re seeing it in their businesses, and it just kind of transfers over to attendance at the show.”
Storm damage across northern Wisconsin from recent severe weather likely impacted attendance as well, Panzer said.
“The show was extremely well put on, but attendance just wasn’t there for a lot of factors,” Panzer said.
Weather and fewer farms were contributors, but for Glewen, the primary factor is Wisconsin agriculture isn’t as profitable as it once was.
“When farmers are struggling just to make ends meet, they’re not as interested in looking at new equipment at a show,” he said.
Preparing for 2020
But Glewen, Panzer and Leary are optimistic for Eau Claire County’s prospects in 2020: Central and west central Wisconsin farm shows are usually better-attended, all three said.
“It’s primarily because we have a large number of medium-sized farms through the center and western side of the state,” Glewen said. “Those are often our best-attended shows. There’s just more people to attend.”
More than 42,000 people attended the 2018 FTD, held in Wood County just west of Marshfield, Leary said.
Holding a successful FTD doesn’t just depend on the number of attendees, Glewen said.
“What exhibitors are really looking for are (people) attending the show that are serious about looking at new technology, perhaps buying equipment,” he said.
Despite low attendance in Jefferson County this year, the number of people at field demonstrations was on par with past years, Glewen said.
“That tells me people were seriously looking at something, and went out to field demos to see a chopper or a combine work,” Glewen said.
Wisconsin FTD has no plans to slow down, Glewen said. Shows are scheduled for the next three years — Eau Claire County in 2020, Jefferson County in 2021 and Clark County in 2022.
Huntsinger Farms in Eau Claire, the largest horseradish grower and processor in the world, will host the Eau Claire County FTD. The show will again offer extended hours in the evenings for visitors.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the first-ever FTD extended hours in Jefferson County this year, Glewen said. The county hosted about 20 local microbreweries and winemakers during extended hours, as well as comedy and locally-produced food.
“We think we’re going to have a great show, attendance from all over the area,” Leary said.