As the year of the global pandemic, 2020 forced people and companies to slow down and take a break from normal operations. Of course, that included the international dairy industry’s meeting place: World Dairy Expo. Last year’s cancellation left a hole in the schedules and hearts of the more than 60,000 people who attend Expo each fall, not to mention an approximately $45 million dent in the economy surrounding Madison, Wis.
While canceling the 2020 show was an extremely difficult decision to make, the organization’s leadership did not waste the additional planning time it found itself with. Instead, this time allowed for discussions about what future editions of the iconic gathering might hold.
“The opportunity for strategic dialogue with stakeholders was really the big win for us relative to not having an event in 2020,” said Scott Bentley, World Dairy Expo’s general manager. “We were able to do some strategic work that allowed the staff, the executive committee, and the board to really stretch our imaginations and boundaries and create some new initiatives that we think will be effective not only in 2021 but also in the longer term.”
Visitors to Expo this year will get the first look at the results of some of that creativity in a number of new opportunities that complement regular attendee favorites.
Anyone who has experienced the hustle and bustle of the barns and trade show of Expo knows that its tagline, “Where the global dairy industry meets,” is no exaggeration. Connecting with experienced, passionate individuals is a major draw for many who make the journey to the Alliant Energy Center. While there will certainly be fewer attendees from outside the United States this year, that desire to meet is growing for a number of those planning their trip.
“The global dairy industry is overdue for an opportunity to convene, and although we know that many will not be able to attend in person, we’re going to try to have as interactive and as much of an experience as we possibly can have,” Bentley shared. Key to that mission are a few additions designed to bring people together.
A clear change to visitors will be the relocation of The Tanbark, the dining and networking hub on the grounds, to the Arena Building. Bentley explained, “This will double the size of The Tanbark and make it, what we hope, is really a central meeting point for all attendees.” Commercial exhibitors that were previously housed in the Arena Building will benefit from significant expansion and improvement of the Trade Center, he continued.
Brand new this year is a program specifically geared toward helping young professionals network with a variety of dairy industry companies. Beginning with a virtual job board, Career Connections will allow commercial and dairy cattle exhibitors to interact with students and other young people looking for career opportunities in the industry. Then, during the week of Expo, an in-person open house event will facilitate further conversations and give young adults a chance to learn more about their career options.
“It really is trying to facilitate a critical function in the dairy industry today, which is getting the right people in the right roles,” Bentley believes.
Plenty of connections are formed back in the barns, as well. While the dairy cattle shows are largely the same this year, a few modest changes will ensure they continue to run smoothly. One is the shift of the Youth Showmanship Contest from Thursday evening to Monday afternoon. That change was approved to be implemented last year to create a schedule that was more conducive for the youth participating and for their families watching.
Further, new leadership comes to the Holstein and Red and White Shows this year after their longtime superintendents, Ken Elliott and Bill Langel, respectively, turn over the reins. Jennifer Keuning will take over the Holstein role, and Mike Marean will head up the Red and White Show.
Putting on excellent shows is one of Expo’s highest priorities, and its no simple task to get there. “Those of us that work near the cattle show recognize that it really starts with a high-quality group of breed superintendents, and we feel that we have that with the individuals in place,” Bentley shared. “We think that Jen and Mike are really going to continue to keep the team strong and bring new perspective and skill sets.”
Additionally, Jersey Superintendent Jon Rasmussen will also be tackling the role of assistant overall breed superintendent to work with all exhibitors throughout the week. Read more about these past and present leaders on pages 491, 498, and 504 of this issue.
Education is a cornerstone
Each year, thousands of visitors to Expo take the opportunity to hear knowledgeable dairy experts and professionals speak on subjects ranging from calf care to trade policy. Expo Seminars and Dairy Forage Seminars provide dairy producers with valuable insight into topics that affect how they run their business, and Virtual Farm Tours are a longtime favorite to get a view of dairy operations all over the country. First introduced in 2019, the Knowledge Nook schedule is expanded this year to shine a light on even more of the newest research in the dairy landscape.
Two new opportunities will enhance further learning this year, with the first capitalizing on the expanded Tanbark. Attendees can start each day of their Expo trip by joining nationally recognized speakers, including television personality Tyne Morgan from the U.S. Farm Report, for Tanbark Talks at 8 a.m. These presentations are designed to create a learning and networking opportunity for all visitors with industry leaders, Bentley said.
Later in the afternoon on three days during the week will be the first educational sessions specifically designed for Spanish-speaking dairy owners, managers, and mid-managers. These will be held in the Exhibition Hall.
“We’re particularly excited about bringing another flavor to the educational programming with Expo en Español,” Bentley shared. Presentations will be given exclusively in Spanish and include a question-and-answer segment. Sessions this year cover employee management and training, cultural understanding, and leadership.
For some of Expo’s younger attendees, touring the event with their school or competing in FFA contests bring the dairy industry to life. Those opportunities will proceed as normal as possible this year, Bentley confirmed.
Old and new will blend for what’s sure to be an exciting 2021 Expo experience. Although it won’t look exactly as we remember it as the world continues to heal from the pandemic, it will still serve as a chance for dairy enthusiasts to gather, compete, and share ideas. “There’s pent up demand for all of us to get back to the business of dairy,” Bentley said. “We look forward to hosting the opportunity for everyone to participate in the way that they can.”