Technology Weaves Its Way Onto Wisconsin Farms

Jul 21, 2016

For decades at this time each summer, Wisconsin farmers have gathered to talk technology. Wisconsin Farm Technology Days began back in 1954 with a simple hay baling contest in Waupaca County.

The Scott family hopped on the trolley to scope out technology event.
Credit Susan Bence

This week a farmer south of Geneva Lake hosted.

Kyle Scott came to check it out. He works for a crop farmer northeast of here. He and his wife also farm their own five-acre parcel.

“I guess both of us are probably interested in what they have for livestock equipment and feeders and general farm equipment - anything and everything,” Scott says.

Scott didn’t grow up on a farm, but when he got a taste of it, he was hooked. “I like it, it’s fun,” he says.

The Leonard family farms south of Geneva Lake.
Credit Susan Bence

Bill Leonard’s dairy farm isn’t far from here. He says he’s one of the little guys in the neighborhood.

“There’s a few smaller than us but for the most part the 1400 cow dairies are getting to be more common than the 130 cow dairies, like we are,” Leonard says.

Leonard, his wife and son already made the rounds and need to get home. They’ve got wheat to harvest.

But he’s leaving with useful information for how to store his feed.
 

Bunker system at Snudden farm used to store and dry grain.
Credit Susan Bence

“We’re switching from silage bags to bunker silos and there’s a lot of different options for covering and sealing down bunkers and we got a lot good information on that today,” Leonard says.

Leonard, who says his sons represent his farm’s third generation, also says farming comes with challenges.

There’s the unpredictability of weather, and “the biggest problem is the big swings in the market. Two years ago we were making great money. Well now we’re at the bottom of the market and it’s tough to keep the bills paid. I mean farming is you work on a margin of pennies,” he says.

What keeps him going? Leonard says simply, “I love what I do.”

UW-Extension agriculture agent Peg Reedy shows me those massive bunkers Leonard talked about, and more of the farm from the comfort of a John Deere gator.

Reedy helped organize this event. She says a steady stream of visitors will tag along on farm tours all three days.

The farm's large dairy operation was on display.
Credit Susan Bence

I can’t meet the farm’s owner. Reedy says he prefers to stay behind the scenes, maybe because he’s busy. He farms 3,000 acres and milks 1700 to 1800 cows, three times a day.

“They’re pretty much milking all day, so he has shifts of workers who come and milk the cows all day,” Reedy says.

Weeks ago, crews began temporarily transforming more than 500 acres here for the farm tech expo.

Four big tents are dedicated to agribusiness – with vendors peddling everything from feed and seed to milking equipment.

More than just inspecting the latest equipment, visitors can watch them perform.
Credit Susan Bence

Outside a dizzying display of large farming equipment dominates the landscape.

“We’ll take a spin over here. So here’s a software company. Farmers collect data on their combines, on their tillage equipment. What it does is collect data about not only yield but soil conditions,” Reedy says.

How many Wisconsin farmers are using such sophisticated tools? "You know I don't think that's real widespread yet," Reedy says.

Dave Adams was an early adopter of  farm technology. He and his son are raising beef cattle and crops on the farm Adams’ dad started in 1952 outside Lake Geneva.

“One of the technologies is we grid map the soil so that we know where we need fertilizer and where we don’t," Adams explains, "and where it’s more fertile so we can plant more seeds there, to get more crops off of. So thus, you can bring your yield up by not necessarily planting in more seed, but planting more seed in some places and less in others."

Yet Adams says he won’t be tempted by the latest gizmo this year.

Dave Adams and his son has incorporated new technology in the farm operation Adam's dad started in 1952.
Credit Susan Bence

“We’re coming off a really good three years. The problem now is that prices have dropped significantly. And some of the calves that you bought when prices were high, there’s going to be a lot of people who lose money on them, including us,” Adams says

He says he’ll ride out this storm and the next, just as his dad did.

“There’s nothing like watching the calves be born in the spring, or the baby chicks. Or planting your seed in the spring and harvesting it in the fall and watching that corn roll in. I don’t know how to put it in words, it’s just everything,” Adams says.

Next year if you head out this way, you won’t recognize this field that 30,000 farm lovers will have trampled. It’s likely to be a sea of corn.