Recalling the thousands of people that attended the fall Farm Progress Day show 35 years ago in Jefferson County is why Sarah Walter and her husband, Mike want to host one of the largest farm shows again this year.
“I can remember all the people,” Sarah said as she recalled the show that took place back in October of 1984. “There had to be thousands of people here in those three days,” she said.
And the family hopes to attract that many visitors again this year on the same farm, Sarah said as she gazed out the window over her kitchen sink of her home at W5340 French Road, Johnson Creek.
The 66th annual farm show will be held July 23-25 on the Walter Grain Farms in Johnson Creek.
Bernard “Bud” and Beverly Walter hosted the 31st annual Wisconsin Farm Progress Days in 1984. The 2019 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, occurring on the same site, will mark the 35th anniversary of the first show the farm hosted.
The first time the Walters hosted the large agricultural show, the family’s operation consisted of a combined total of 600 acres owned and 1,100 acres rented. It was made up of four farms, each owned individually.
Today the Walters own 2,500 acres and rent an additional 3,500 acres in Jefferson, Dodge and Dane counties, from Deerfield to Lowell.
This year’s event, which will be held July 23-25, will be the third time in the history of the show that it has been held on a previous host farm.
“(The Walters) are joining an elite group of folks who have held the show twice,” Matt Glewen, general manager of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days (WFTD), said in announcing the host family a couple of years ago. “That says something to the longevity, the sustainability and the continuity of their farming operations that they’re still here, bigger and better than they were in 1984.”
It will also be the third time that Jefferson County has hosted WFTD, which was previously called Wisconsin Farm Progress Days. The first time the show was held in the county was in 1956 when it was held on the Bill (Jan) and Ted Ward and Craig (Laura) Beane Farms in rural Fort Atkinson.
“The idea of showcasing Jefferson County was a driving factor,” Sarah said about hosting the event. “It will give our grandchildren an opportunity to see a show of this size.”
In 1984, Tent City consisted of 53.2 acres of exhibitor tents. With peripheral tents and exhibit plots, the “city” welled to 90.13 acres. There were 555 exhibitors on 935 lots and 172 booths in the agri-industry tent.
This year organizers are expecting around 600 vendors for Tent City on about 80 acres, with another 400 acres for field demonstrations.
“Of course, machinery is a lot bigger now,” Sarah Walter said.
The three-day show typically draws 40,000 to 50,000 people.
The show in Wood County in 2018 drew 40,000 people, Brad Walter, the son of Mike and Sarah, said.
“But this is going to be a family friendly show for everyone,” Brad said. “It is not just for agriculture.”
There will be a youth tent, a family living tent with crafters and entertainers, Applied Technology Center, Progress Pavilion Tent, along with food and refreshments.
“It is not much different than a county fair, except for the rides,” Brad said.
“I am excited to have it in our own backyard and experience it with the children,” he said.
“One of the biggest thrills is watching it go up,” Sarah said.
In 1984, the show had free admission. Today it cost $8 a day to attend, thus the need for three trucks full of fencing that arrived at the farm almost three months prior to the kickoff.
Walter Grain Farms has been in the Walters family since 1957, when Mike’s father, purchased his first 50 acres of land. Bernard came to Jefferson County for the cheap farmland. The property has a Johnson Creek address, is located in the town of Milford about five miles from Watertown, Lake Mills and Johnson Creek and is located in a dip in the road known as Grellton.
The farm has been through many phases of agriculture. Bud and Beverly began with 20 milk cows, eventually transitioning to more than 800 head of veal calves, feeder steers and heifers. At one time, the family was farrowing more than 350 sows.
Mike was born on the farm in 1958, his wife said. He was raised on the farm and Sarah was raised in Watertown. The two married in 1977. They raised feeder pigs for a while but discontinued raising livestock in 2001. In the meantime, the family purchased a couple more farms.
“We have machinery and equity in the land,” Sarah said.
Mike and Sarah have five children and 17 grandchildren. The family includes daughter Pam and husband Lee Schumacher and their children, Breann, Onterion, Haden, Harper and Bryce Schumacher; son Nick and wife Mandy Walter and their children, Nathan, Paige and Thomas Walter; son Adam and wife Heather and their children, Julie, Taylor and Lisa Walter; son Tony and wife Jenny Walter and their children, Graceyn and Elliana Walter; and son Brad and wife Kristi Walter, and their children, Morgan, Eli, Layla and Maci Walter.
Along with sons Adam and Brad and daughters-in-law Heather and Kristi, Mike and Sarah operate Walter Grain Farms. Today it is a combination of three farms with a cash grain operation producing corn, soybeans and winter wheat.
“The boys (Brad and Adam) have been farming with us since teenagers,” their mom said. Brad has been farming for 16 years and Adam 18 years.
The family farms together, but each member has their responsibilities. Sarah, Heather and Kristi do the books and the men operate the farm equipment. Mike and Sarah own the bulk of the owned land and the boys own a majority of the equipment. WFTD activities will be on the land owned by Mike and Sarah.
The farmers produce an average of 238 bushels of corn per acre and 71 bushels per acre of soybeans.
This year 500 acres was seeded with hay for the show. There will be field demonstrations, including forage harvesting, plowing, heritage plowing, wheat harvest and tiling.
In addition to their cropping operation, the Walters also own a drain tiling business.
They have recently improved their facilities with a new farm equipment storage building on the main farm where Mike and Sarah live.
This year’s show will be unique in that it will have the history of Jefferson County from Aztalan to current day cropping, Brad said. It will also feature an Ag Career Day for students and the hours have been extended on Wednesday.
The show hours have been extended on July 24 to 7 p.m. to allow more people to visit after their work day, Brad pointed out.
Both are excited that Beverly Walter, 88, will be able to see the show again on the farm. Bud passed on March 8, 2013 at the age of 79.
When the announcement was made that the Walters would be host of the event for the second time, Beverly said, “The last time I was living (in the homestead house). I really enjoyed watching the Tent City go up. I could look out my window and watch.”
And this year the fourth generation of the Walter family will have the opportunity to watch Tent City evolve and host all the visitors again on the farm in Jefferson County.