David Bretl

By David Bretl

Walworth County Administrator

I am adding a trip to Dallas to my vacation itinerary this summer. Fortunately, I won’t have to battle through the oppressive Texas heat because the Dallas I am planning to visit is actually located in Barron County.

      As much as I enjoy the north woods, I probably wouldn’t be stopping in Dallas if it were not for some good news that we recently received. Last month, Walworth County was chosen to host Farm Technology Days in 2016.

      While 2016 may seem like a long time away, hosting Farm Technology Days requires a lot of planning. It is one of the largest agricultural tradeshows in the country, featuring vendor displays as well as demonstrations of the latest agricultural equipment and techniques.

      The show has historically traveled throughout the state during its 59-year history. The event’s organizers, Farm Technology Days, Inc., finds a host county and provides support through its general manager. The county, in turn, forms an “executive committee,” comprised of 12-14 members, including county supervisors and members of the community.

      The executive committee is divided into numerous subcommittees that are responsible for coordinating hundreds of volunteers who assist with almost every task imaginable, ranging from marketing and promotion to traffic and safety. Keeping the committee on task is the job of the host county’s Agricultural Extension Agent, in our case, Peg Reedy, who will serve as the committee’s executive secretary.

      Farm Technology Days is always held at a working farm. One of the first orders of business for the executive committee is to select a host farm. Given the size of the show, not just any farm will do. A minimum of 400 acres is necessary to put on the event, which includes 100 acres of parking, 60 acres to accommodate a large “tent city” of vendors and 250 acres for field demonstrations.

      The phrase “tent city,” by the way, is no exaggeration. Last year’s event featured nearly 150 tents as well as ten buildings that were constructed on site. Four miles of “streets” served the grounds that featured 559 exhibitors. Good roads serving the farm are a must in order to get large equipment in and out as well as to accommodate up to 60,000 visitors that the event is anticipated to attract. A level area for parking and the ability to store forage are two additional considerations.

      Regardless of where it is held in the state, Farm Technology Days runs for three days, Tuesday through Thursday, typically during the summer, but occasionally in the early fall. This year’s show in Barron County, for example, will run from July 9 to July 11.

      While there are lots of things to see and do at the event, even if your farm consists of a backyard garden, it is, first and foremost, a trade show. The weekday format is preferred by vendors who need to staff the event with experts and salespeople.

      This will be the first time that Farm Technology Days will be held in Walworth County. During the show’s history, a number of Wisconsin counties have hosted the event multiple times, including our neighbor to the west, Rock County, which was selected in 1961, 1988 and 2001. Following the 2013 show in Barron County, Farm Technology Days will move to Portage County in 2014 and then to Dane County in 2015, before making its stop here.

      The event requires an up-front financial commitment by the host county of $20,000. Additionally, our Extension office anticipates hiring a temporary worker during 2015 and 2016, at a cost of $25,000, to assist in the planning process. Both the “seed” money and costs incurred by the county, including the wages of the worker, should be reimbursed after the event.

      Although it will be a lot of work, hosting Farm Technology Days makes sense to me from a number of different perspectives. The event highlights the importance of agriculture in our county. More than 1,000 farms covering 217,593 acres in Walworth County produce milk as well as corn, soybeans and a variety of other crops.

      Agriculture-related employment accounts for over 3,700 jobs in our county, with sales topping $600 million per year. The event will generate economic activity in our county, as well. A recent study by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls estimated that Farm Technology Days has an overall economic impact on the host county of more than $1.8 million, supporting 33 jobs and generating $191,000 in additional taxes.

      One positive side effect of all of the planning that leads up to Farm Technology Days is the leadership opportunities that it creates. Inspiring new leaders and sharpening the skills of existing community leaders will benefit our county long after the event is over. Our County Board is “on board” with hosting the event, having unanimously approved a resolution of support in April, prior to our selection as the host county.

      I suspect you will be hearing more about Farm Technology Days during the course of the next three years. I don’t have exact dates to give you yet, but summer is a safe bet. For those of you who can’t wait until 2016, I will see you in Dallas in a couple of months.

      The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors or Southern Lakes Newspapers LLC.


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