On Display at Expo: Pain Amid the Optimism
Sep 28, 2009
With World Dairy Expo – the nation’s largest annual dairy event – set to start today amid one of the worst dairy depressions in recent memory, I have to wonder what the mood will be here at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis., this week.
Over the past few months, I’ve talked with beleaguered producers all over the country who are worried about whether or not they’ll survive this year’s financial disaster. I’ve seen producers choke up as they wonder aloud how 2009’s downturn will affect their children’s future. Some have told me that prices are so far below the cost of production, it will take years to climb out of the hole. Others have talked about vanished equity, being behind on their bills and their disbelief at being broke. I’ve heard of heartache and bankruptcies and suicides.
And not a day goes by that I don’t receive e-mails, news releases and articles about the dairy industry’s financial crisis. Some of the senders offer short- and long-term solutions. Others point fingers, blaming failing programs and leadership. The turmoil is real and widespread.
So who wants to come to this dairy Disneyland in Madison? How many of you can afford to attend this year, especially if you’re from out of state? How many can set aside your angst long enough to make the trip to World Dairy Expo?
More than you might think. In all, 65,000 to 70,000 people will make their way to Expo this week, says John Rozum, sales manager for World Dairy Expo. “We’ve seen consistent attendance for 10 to 15 years, and through price downturns before,” he says.
The number of commercial exhibitors this year stands at Expo’s highest ever, with 750 companies and more on the waiting list, says Lisa Behnke, World Dairy Expo’s marketing manager. And sponsorships are equal to last year’s record amount, she adds.
The list of exhibitors includes 115 new companies who are making their first appearances at Expo. Many companies will focus on cost-saving, efficiency-increasing products and services for the dairy business.
“They understand that prices are down, that people may not be in the mood to buy, and that we might see a lot of ‘tire kickers’ this year,” Rozum says. “But our exhibitors want the industry to know they are still in business and bringing their best to the show.”
Rozum is especially excited by the newly expanded “America’s Dairyland” area, which has doubled in size from last year. Several new exhibitors have spaces there. “It’s a roomful of treasures,” he promises.
Both Rozum and Behnke are optimistic that producer turnout will be high.
“World Dairy Expo is not necessarily a pleasure trip for people,” says Behnke. “It’s business too. But it’s also a colossal shot in the arm for people. There’s an inherent optimism that they’re not the only ones in this [sinking] boat. People are enthusiastic when they’re here because they know they’re among people who totally know the dairy business. If they love this business, people are coming.”
“You can’t miss this year’s show,” Rozum adds. “If you’re in the dairy business, you’ve got to be here.”