GRELLTON — “After three years of planning, just like that it’s over.
It’s like the letdown you feel the day after Christmas.”
That’s how Sarah Walter described how she felt at the close of the state’s largest agricultural show on Thursday. She and her husband, Mike, and two of their sons, Brad and Adam and families, hosted the three-day event.
“The first meeting we went to after our farm was chosen to host it, I started to wonder what we got ourselves into,” Mike recalled. “We’re really proud to host this, though, and to be able to show off not only our farm, but also show people what agriculture is all about.”
Mike Walter said he was enjoying walking around the show at their Town of Milford farm in the community of Grellton and actually seeing the exhibits. When his parents hosted the show last time in 1984, he was on his own farm down the road and his only involvement was driving the semi to haul grain off the farm as it was harvested in the field demonstrations.
“I really feel proud to be able to have all these people on our farm,” he said. “Getting to know all of these people who were in on the planning for the last three years and the many volunteers who are working here this week has been great. I’ve made a lot of new friends through this.”
Hosting this event meant making changes in their routine cropping rotation. Normally, they do not plant alfalfa, but they needed to get that established and then find area dairy farmers to agree to harvest it according to the schedule that fit the show. The last harvest before the show, they needed to leave a strip stand to mark out straight rows for vehicles.
They also needed to plant wheat and alfalfa in fields that were suitable for the combining, hay cutting, chopping, tillage and baling demonstrations.
The family receivedno compensation for hosting the event, but they did get seed to establish the alfalfa fields and they benefited by the 35,000 feet of tile that was laid in a 20-acre field as a part of the tiling demonstrations.
Bev Walter, matriarch of the family, said, “This year, I actually got to see the show. Last time, we were required to be so many places and appear on stage during the show. We didn’t have any utility vehicles to take us around either. We had to walk everywhere.”
She said she enjoyed viewing this year’s show in a sport utility vehicle chauffeured by her daughter, Pat. A sign on the front let visitors know who she was. It read “1984 Host Queen Bev Walter’s Chariot.”
“Pat drove me around this year and I got to meet so many people,” she said.
Her grandsons, Brad and Adam, are both involved in their parents’ farm. Brad said his children loved the idea of having all of this activity on their farm. Adam’s children walked to the show each day and enjoyed showing off their family’s farm.
“It is amazing that a month ago this was just an alfalfa field and a city sprang up in there almost overnight,” Brad said. “When I think about how many people invest three years time in planning this event, it’s just mind-boggling,” he added.
Scott Schneider, co-chairman for Farm Technology Days at the Walter Grain Farms, said, “I am very pleased with the operations and the organizational aspects of the show. I am a bit disappointed in the turnout. I really thought there would be more in attendance.”
He said he isn’t sure of the reasons for the lower-than-anticipated attendance.
“I think the poor farm economy is a big reason for it,” he said. “Some farmers may not have been able to afford to take a day off and drive down here for the show. Others may just not be interested in looking at things they cannot afford at this time.
“While we are happy with the good weather we had for the show, it may have hurt attendance,” Schneider said. “Last week was extremely hot and there was rain and storms. That would not have been good for the show, but for farmers, it may have delayed things like haying and now this week they needed to stay home and get their hay done.”
He said the committee will not have official numbers in attendance for a couple of weeks,but the attendance was visibly down. Parking areas that were prepared to accommodate cars were not even needed.
A highlight of the event was the well-attended Block Party on Wednesday, a new event for the traditional farm show. Rural comedian Charlie Berens, creator of the wildly successful online series “The Manitowoc Minute,” was a big hit among attendees, who paid extra to attend the Block Party.
The committee estimates there were about 1,000 people in attendance at the after-show event that featured wine, beer and food sampling from local breweries, wineries and food companies. Some vendors at that event reported running out of products because there were more people than they expected. They sold 500 glasses for the beer and wine sampling and 250 additional tickets for food sampling. Visitors said they were impressed with the entertainment and many took the opportunity to pose for photos with him at the event.
Darlene Arneson of the Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom program was on hand in the youth tent each day of the event. She said attendance among young people was very good the first day when there was a careers event specifically for youths. Wednesday and Thursday, there were fewer youths taking part in the variety of educational and fun activities the show provided.
Anna Maenner and her husband, Chuck, work with exhibitors at the show every year. She pointed out that it takes three years to plan and the number of volunteers involved continues to grow until the show itself, which is dependent on about 1,500 volunteers.
“It’s exciting to see it all come together,” she said. “The show is unique because it does travel around the state. Vendors told me that while the numbers were down, they were still pleased because they were able to make good contacts with farmers serious about buying things for their farm.”
Another thing that makes Farm Technology Days different from other trade shows is the opportunity to go out into the field and watch the various equipment work. Despite lower attendance overall, that was not evident in the fields, where hundreds of people stood along the edge to watch the equipment work and then walked over to inspect the results and talk with the equipment operators.
With the show complete, the Walter family now have the task of loosening the soil in the fields packed by heavy traffic during the last few weeks.
“We will likely put a cover crop like tillage radishes that reach deep down to loosen the soil on the area that had been tent city,” Mike said. “We are not sure yet about the other fields. We will leave the alfalfa as long as it looks good and then we’ll return to grain crops on those fields.”
The show will be in Eau Claire County next year on a horseradish farm.
In 2021, it returns to Jefferson County, at Jefferson County Fair Park with field demonstrations in nearby fields just outside of town.