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2021 FTD canceled: Poor attendance in Jefferson County, agriculture challenges cited

After a disappointing turnout at this year’s Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, held at Walter Grain Farms in Jefferson County in July, representatives of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, Inc. have announced the cancellation of the 2021 show, which was set to be held at Jefferson County Fair Park in Jefferson County.

“The state board had a long, hard discussion and after meeting with some of our larger exhibitors at World Dairy Expo, have decided to cancel the 2021 show,” said Matt Glewen, general manager for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. “After more than 60 years of on-farm shows, they felt the combination of a slow agricultural economy, coupled with a non-traditional off-farm site, would not have the level of appeal to attract the large numbers of attendees needed for a successful show.”

Glewen said there were a number of factors that could have contributed to the poor attendance at this year’s show, including a wet stretch of weather just before the show followed by a few nice days that may have kept farmers working on the farm instead of attending, along with a storm that tracked across central Wisconsin that may have also kept agriculturally minded attendees away. He also heard from exhibitors that the consolidation of farms in southern Wisconsin has hurt shows held in that region and that traditionally, shows hosted in southern Wisconsin counties have not been strong shows in the past.

The general economic status of agriculture could have also played a role, Glewen added.

While attendees had the opportunity to view expanded field demonstrations at Walter Grain Farms this year, not having a farm tour may have also contributed to low attendance. And with plans to host the 2021 event at Jefferson County Fair Park, the first time the show would have been held off-farm, representatives shied away from another potential loss.

“At the next two shows, we will have farm tours,” Glewen said. “I don’t think we would have canceled if we had a host farm (in 2021) like we usually do.”

To his knowledge, Glewen believes that a Farm Technology Days show has never been canceled in its over 60 year history, although there may have been one year early on that representatives did not hold a show. He explained that in Europe, it is standard to hold farm shows every other year, if not every three years, and it’s something that the board has been discussing.

“We hear more and more from exhibitors that they want that,” he said, although switching to this type of model could pose some continuity and planning challenges. “(However), nothing is off the table at this point.”

Some larger exhibitors have also expressed interest in a permanent site for Farm Technology Days, although the board has yet to find the “right site” to fit their needs. In 2018, the board was approached by representatives of the Iola Car Show, who offered to host the event on their permanent site in Waupaca County, but there are currently no plans to host a future FTD show there.

Despite low attendance at this year’s event, the FTD board is confident shows in 2020 and 2022 will be successful.

The 2020 show is slated for July 21-23, 2020, and will be held at Huntsinger Farms, a horseradish farm. The farm is located in Eau Claire County, and its subsidiary Silver Spring Foods, Inc., is the largest producer of horseradish in the world. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about horseradish production and see how it is grown and harvested.

“All the pieces are pretty well put together for 2020,” Glewen said. “We’re excited about showcasing the horseradish farm, which is really unique, and the family has been really engaged with the show too.”

“Hosting the 2020 Eau Claire County Farm Technology Days is a once in a lifetime honor for Huntsinger Farms and the Huntsinger family,” said Eric Rygg, co-owner of Huntsinger Farms. “Farm Technology Days will give us a unique opportunity to share our knowledge and experience farming this specialty crop.”

As an added bonus, attendees will also have the opportunity to tour Nellie’s Holsteins in 2020, a neighboring 200-cow dairy farm operated by the Nelson family.

It was also announced last week that Roehl Acres and Rustic Occasions of Loyal have been selected as hosts of 2022 Farm Technology Days in Clark County. Owned by Dennis and Suzie Roehl and family, Roehl Acres is a dairy farm with more than 500 cows that also crops 750 acres.

“In 1983, I went to my first Farm Progress Days Show. I was 14 years old and I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever been to,” said Dennis Roehl. “Now, 36 years later, I will be the host farm for Farm Technology Days 2022. In a way, I have been preparing all of my life.”

Glewen said Clark County representatives had six “really nice” farms to consider as hosts for 2022 and organizers are just getting started on planning the large event, slated for July 12-14, 2022.

“Farm Technology Days is a piece of agriculture and it’s probably struggling a bit just like agriculture is right now,” Glewen said. “But we’re telling everyone to hang in there — this is not the time to give up. We’re optimistic that future shows will be successful.”

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Pepin County addressing water issues

DURAND — Pepin County has among the highest estimated percentage in Wisconsin of wells with nitrate levels higher than what is considered safe for regular human consumption, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Groundwater Coordinating Council.

The Pepin County Water Advisory Group was created about three years ago by representatives from UW-Extension, the county’s land conservation, land use planning and health departments and Pepin County citizens in an effort to get together and work on ways to bring nitrate levels to the point where county citizens have access to safe drinking water.

“We have each been dealing with nitrate issues in groundwater in different ways, and we decided that we needed to work together and to pull the community into the discussion,” Mike Travis, agriculture and natural resources educator with UW-Extension in Pepin County, said during an Oct. 3 field day at Weiss Family Farms near Durand. “The idea of the water advisory group is to really dig into what the nitrate issue is in the county and to look at how we can address the issue.”

Nitrate is a water-soluble molecule that forms when ammonia or other nitrogen-rich sources combine with oxygen. Nitrate is the most widespread groundwater contaminant in the state, and nitrate contamination of groundwater is increasing in extent and severity, according to the Groundwater Coordinating Council.

“It’s by no means a local issue. It’s a statewide, it’s a nationwide issue,” Travis said. “We realized here at the county that we need to do something at the county level to begin working on it.”

Where pollution sources are absent, nitrate levels in groundwater are generally below 1 milligram per liter, according to Kevin Masarik, groundwater education specialist with UW-Extension and UW-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources. It is recommended that people avoid long-term consumption of water containing nitrate above 10 milligrams per liter.

“If we’re successful in reducing nitrate losses even a little bit, we might be able to significantly reduce the number of people exposed to water over 10 milligrams per liter,” Masarik said. “I’m optimistic, but I realize there are inherent challenges.”

According to Pepin County Conservationist Chase Cummings, the county’s well-monitoring efforts in 2018 showed 33 percent of wells tested in the town of Durand and 45 percent of wells tested in the town of Lima returned nitrate levels above the safe drinking water standard.

“There’s cause for concern there,” Cummings said. “But we have a lot of landowners in these watersheds who are trying their hand at improving that situation.”

In March 2018, Pepin County adopted a moratorium on expansion and creation of large-scale livestock facilities, which the county defined as having 500 animal units or more. That large-scale livestock moratorium expires at the end of March 2020, and Cummings said the county is currently reviewing options for the end of the moratorium, including a potential ordinance requiring licensing of large livestock facilities. They are also conducting a feasibility study of composting manure in the county.

Discovery Farms is conducting nitrogen use efficiency research on eight farms in Pepin County in 2019, as well as on several farms in Dunn and Sauk counties, said Abby Augarten, nitrogen use efficiency project coordinator with Discovery Farms. On-farm research in Pepin County is studying the cycle of nitrogen being used to grow corn.

“We’re working with a group of farmers who are interested in trying to proactively understand their nitrogen use and the efficiency of that use and tackle the groundwater concern along with remaining productive in growing corn,” said Kevan Klingberg, outreach specialist with the Discovery Farms program.

Don Weiss of Weiss Family Farms in Durand is part of farmer-led watershed initiative in the county and has also attended the Pepin County Water Advisory Group meetings. Weiss is in his second year growing the nitrogen-fixing corn on test plots on his farm.

Nitrogen-fixing corn was first brought up at a meeting of the Pepin County Water Advisory Group several years ago, Travis said.

“We had heard about it and thought of it as a pie-in-the-sky idea,” he said. “But if we can reduce the amount of nitrate that we are applying to the ground, the hope is we will reduce the amount that can end up infiltrating into our groundwater and hopefully begin turning things around on the nitrates in groundwater.”

Travis did some research, which led him to Walter Goldstein of the Mandaamin Institute in Elkhorn. Goldstein has been breeding corn for nitrogen efficiency and nitrogen fixing capability, Travis said.

“It’s interesting because nitrogen-fixing corn is a natural occurrence in Mexico and South America, the home of corn,” Travis said. “The challenge is most of those varieties are 12-month varieties and grow to be 10- to 12-feet tall, not something you can grow here.”

Goldstein’s work with the Mandaamin Institute since 2011 has been focused on breeding a variety of nitrogen-fixing corn that would not only work in Wisconsin, but would continue to produce high yields and not lose nutritional value, he said.

“We bred intensively to try to get this quality and this nitrogen efficiency and the yield together,” Goldstein said. “That’s been a lot of our effort.”

The varieties being grown at Weiss Family Farms reach maturity between 102 and 108 days, he said.

Weiss said he is looking for ways his farm can have less of an impact on the environment while still remaining profitable. He started testing the nitrogen-fixing corn after his neighborhood’s church had to put in a reverse osmosis machine to get its well’s nitrate levels safe for drinking.

“We just want to make it possible for our families to be able to drink the water here in the future and still be profitable,” Weiss said. “If (the nitrogen-fixing) corn is the answer, we could save money by not having to use nitrogen and save our water by not polluting it.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

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DMI: Milk still a powerhouse, but innovation needed

MADISON — According to Dairy Management, Inc., 94% of U.S. households still have milk in their fridges. That shakes out to 117 million U.S. households buying milk, generating $13.8 billion in sales. Beverage companies have not turned away from milk either, spending over $250 million in consumer marketing of milk and beverages with milk incorporated into them.

“Milk is still a powerhouse,” said Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of Global Innovation Partnerships for Dairy Management, Inc., at a seminar at World Dairy Expo in early October.

Breaking it down further, Ziemnisky said of those 94% of U.S. households buying milk, 52% are buying milk exclusively. Forty-two percent are buying a combination of milk and plant-based milk, with only 3% of U.S. households exclusively buying plant-based milk. Less than 3% are buying neither milk or plant-based milk, typically due to religious or ethical reasons.

However, fluid milk consumption has been falling in the U.S., with the average consumer drinking 1.5 ounces less each week than decades before. These statistics are also telling DMI representatives that some households are exploring the beverage aisle at their grocery store — an aisle that has seen 670 new beverage items added on average over the past five years.

For Ziemnisky and Kristiana Alexander, director of Global Innovation Partnerships for DMI, it’s time for dairy to invest in innovation and add value back into that ever-expanding beverage aisle.

Through research conducted by DMI, there are four major dynamics that are fueling the decline of fluid milk consumption in the U.S. but also add opportunity for innovation for beverages that have milk as an ingredient.

First, societal changes, including changes in American demographics and household composition, have driven consumption down. Seventy percent of U.S. households don’t have children, and of those households that do, a large percentage of them are living in urban areas.

“In some of these households, a gallon isn’t relevant anymore,” Ziemnisky said.

Changing breakfast behaviors have also impacted consumption as less cereal consumption means less milk consumption. More and more consumers are also opting to eat on-the-go, giving rise to the third dynamic: the growth of out-of-home consumption.

Finally, there has been significant beverage innovation outside of milk since the 1970s, Ziemnisky said. In the ‘70s, households consumed milk, soft drinks, coffee and juice; in the ‘80s, bottled water launched, along with the idea of portability. Beverage innovation continued into the ‘90s, giving way to sports drinks such as Gatorade and flavored teas, followed by the 2000s, where there was “a significant expansion in beverage” with the introduction of energy drinks, functional beverages, enhanced water, ready-to-drink coffee and milk alternatives.

“We’re losing to bottled water and coffee,” he said, explaining how DMI has tracked the milk consumers the industry has lost.

More and more consumers are drinking a bottle of water with their lunch at the office or looking to consume coffee for energy. However, today’s coffee drinkers are consuming flavored creamers, which is significant to fluid milk and an opportunity to gain a little ground in consumption.

Technology has also pushed these two beverages ahead, with products like reusable, aluminum water bottles and for coffee, the introduction of the Keurig and single-serve K-cups. These beverages have also pushed premium, resulting in “high-end” bottled waters and coffees; beverage companies have also launched into the health-focused space to gain consumers and the selection of flavors and added carbonation has significantly pushed bottled water consumption over the past few years.

“We have to keep it relevant across all these things to keep milk active with today’s consumer,” Ziemnisky said. “Just one more serving (of milk per household per week) is all it takes to grow this category. But we need investment — we need investment in innovation and when you’re in 94% of households in the U.S., you also need to inspire usage.”

With consumers more focused on living a holistic lifestyle, Kristiana Alexander sees three platforms the dairy industry can use to spur innovation and improve milk consumption. Consumers who are trying to do the best for their mind, body and the planet are often asking themselves three questions: Is this product good for my body? Will I enjoy this product? Do I feel good about buying this product? Each question poses opportunity, with a focus on health, experience and responsible consumption.

“Health is no longer the opposite of illness,” Alexander said. “It is an endless journey towards optimization.”

There has been an increase in protein in consumer diets, especially in the snack industry, along with a bigger interest in the contents of sugar, fat and other nutrients. Vegetables and grains have found their way into beverages to provide further health benefits and there is a larger focus on gut and brain health, along with general health. Demand is also growing for beverages that provide energy, with new flavors, new formats and new sizes pushing innovation in this area.

“As people embrace a more holistic view of well-being, they are also willing to pay more for access to experiences,” Alexander continued.

Consumers and beverage companies are exploring new flavors, such as incorporating florals like hibiscus and lavender rose into products. There is also this idea of awakening multiple senses and providing the consumer with a touch of indulgence.

And finally, as people move further and further away from the farm, they crave storytelling and education that brings them closer to the product they are buying. They want to know if the product is made sustainably and that it doesn’t hurt the environment.

“There are a lot of really interesting trends,” Alexander said.

“And there is opportunity for us to take advantage of what consumers are looking for and relaunch, bring news to this milk segment,” added Ziemnisky. “We need to keep milk relevant and put the consumer first.”