On Farm Events, Risk Versus Reward
We live in an age where people want to know where their food comes from and farmers are encouraged to tell their agricultural story. While on-farm events meet this demand, many considerations must be thought through before a farmer decides to host an event.
Ebert Enterprises in Algoma, Wis. answered this call and opened their farm to the public to host the largest agricultural show in Wisconsin, Farm Technology Days.
Randy and Renee Ebert are the 6th generation to run Ebert Enterprises. The Ebert family started milking cows in 1997 and grew from zero to 1,000 animals in five years. Today the farm milk’s nearly 4,000 cows in an 80-stall rotary parlor.
In 2014, the Ebert’s were selected to be the host farm for the 2017 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. From the start, the Ebert’s considered the risks and rewards that would go into hosting such a large public event.
Gauging the Investment
To get their farm ready to have roughly 30,000 people visit, the Ebert’s relied on their 50 employees and strong business plan.
“My business model is slow incremental internal growth. Every year we know which capital investments we are going to do and we try to cash flow these investments on our own,” Randy says. “We took 2015, 2016, 2017 capital investments that were already planned and shoved them into 2015, which went a little into 2016.”
The capital investments that Ebert Enterprises updated in these years were adding a rotary parlor, a manure handling and nutrient recovery system, and a feed center.
Beyond farm updates, the Ebert’s knew there would be some costs associated with the field and parking lots for the events as well as time away from the farm.
“It’s one of those things you shouldn’t be taking these things on if you aren’t in a financial situation that allows you do a good job of it. It’s about spending money for the right reason,” Randy says.
Today biosecurity is a large concern in animal agriculture, especially when a large number of people are touring a farm. Precautions are taken to ensure safety for the animals and everyone involved.
“In the recent years the Farm Technology Days Committee as a whole decided to not allow anyone off the trams during the farm tours,” Randy says.”
While the tours are on a tram, visitors can see almost everything on the farm, exposing them to ins and outs of a dairy operation.
“On opening day of the event we had 4,000 people tour the farm and more than half had a non-ag background,” Randy says. “From a biosecurity standpoint we are taking precautions, but we feel the risk is worth the reward.”
The financial and biosecurity risks are reasons to be concerned about hosting an on-farm event. However, as Randy put it, “locking your driveway and never letting anyone in is not what our industry needs today."
Being an Advocate
“The number one reason we did not want to host the event was because we were very uncomfortable with the media side. There is always someone that can do a better job,” Randy said.
Yet again the risk was worth it as the Ebert’s believed that it was important to get out of their comfort zone and tell their story to their neighbors and all consumers.
The Ebert’s showed the risk was worth the reward as they showcased their farm to thousands. It will take more farmers like the Ebert’s to make the investment in an on-farm event to help the dairy industry showcase itself to consumers.
Randy’s son Jordan just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As he looks forward he knows the next generation will play a key role in maintaining communication between farmers and consumers.
“As a young producer, these events are extremely important because more and more we are learning that consumers play a huge part in this industry and the direction it heads,” Jordan says. “Farmers need to be more proactive at telling their own story, answering questions, and being transparent with their answers. Events like this can bring consumers together, educate them, and that will only do good for our industry moving forward.”
To learn more about Wisconsin Farm Technology Days click here.