William Hackbarth of Rib Lake, helped his grandsons Lincoln, left, and Sawyer Schafer of Rib Lake, out of a tractor at the 57th annual Eau Claire Farm Show at the Chippewa Valley Expo Center in Eau Claire on March 3.

EAU CLAIRE — The Ag Economy Barometer, a nationwide measure of the health of the U.S. agricultural economy from Purdue University and the CME Group, has been on the rise for the past several months due to an improvement in producer’s perceptions of current conditions in the agricultural markets.

That bit of optimism was on display during the opening day of the 57th Eau Claire Farm Show March 3 at Chippewa Valley Expo Center. The Eau Claire Farm Show is the state’s second-longest running farm show and typically draws between 7,000 and 10,000 visitors over the course of two days, according to organizers North Country Enterprises.

“Spirits are a whole lot better than they were a year ago,” said Mark Hagedorn, UW-Extension Dairy Outreach Program manager. “I haven’t heard of a lot of vendors moving product, but at least people are out here looking.”

Wisconsin’s agricultural economy has been in a slump since the end of 2014, but a slight uptick in commodity prices beginning in late 2019 have some in the industry believing there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Class III milk prices went from a low of $13.89 in February 2019 to $20.45 in November, the first time they were above $20 since November 2014, according to UW-Madison professor emeritus and dairy marketing specialist Bob Cropp.

“The farming industry is coming back a little bit,” said Bill Henry of North Country Enterprises. “We still need a lot of help there, but better prices help, definitely.”

“Better prices make a big difference in a producer’s ability to pay debts and retire debts,” Hagedorn said.

Jeff Rohrscheib of tractor and farm equipment dealer Value Implement, a vendor at the farm show, said improved commodity prices led to a number of farmers looking to repair or upgrade equipment.

“There’s an uptick on upgrading,” Rohrscheib said. “It looks better than it did a year ago at this time.”

Rohrscheib’s co-worker, T.J. Poeschel, said entire communities stand to benefit from any improvements farmers see in commodity prices.

“If a farmer has money, their towns are happy,” he said.

Poeschel said consumer-sized tractors have been popular in recent years as the number of small farms increases. He said the uptick in equipment purchases and repairs points to how farmers were struggling to get by with what they had while economic conditions were poor.

“There’s a lot of little stuff moving right now, but it’s still more needs than wants,” Poeschel said. “If farmers can get by, they are. They have things that need to be repaired or replaced, but they just need the money. We’re going on six years where it’s been bad.”

Jim Holte, a cash grain farmer in the Elk Mound area and recently retired president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said free time, the social aspect of the show and an interest in seeing advances in various sectors of the ag industry were the reasons behind his attending the Eau Claire Farm Show.

“It’s good to come to see what technology is doing and to run into the neighbors and chat a little,” said Holte, who grows corn and soybeans on 450 acres. “Farming is not so much financial for me now as it is the challenge of finding new ways to do things better. I realize that’s a perspective not everyone can have, especially if you’re in the earlier part of your career.”

Still, Holte, like many of the farmers Rohrscheib and Poeschel talked with at the show, isn’t looking to make big investments in new equipment for his farm.

“Where I’m at age-wise, upgrading equipment probably isn’t practical,” Holte said. “I’m 66, why would I make major investments in equipment?”

Hagedorn said the Eau Claire Farm Show gave him the opportunity to chat with vendors who will be returning to Eau Claire this summer for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, and he’s hearing that excitement is growing that event, which will be hosted by Huntsinger Farms south of Eau Claire July 21-23.

Hagedorn said volunteer opportunities are available for people of all ages and range from helping park cars to driving trams to get visitors around the show.

“There have been a lot of exhibitors say they’re looking forward to the next big, local farm show,” Hagedorn said. “Whether it’s the economy or the fact that we’re under 150 days until that show, we’re seeing volunteer interest increasing.”

For more information about 2020 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Eau Claire County, visit www.wifarmtechnologydays.com/eau_claire.