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Published September 29, 2009, 08:43 AM

Mood upbeat for World Dairy Expo

MADISON - Being involved in agriculture requires a certain amount of optimism.

By: AP wire report, West Central Tribune, The Associated Press

MADISON - Being involved in agriculture requires a certain amount of optimism.

Farmers plant corn and hope it grows tall. They plow fields and hope for the right amount of rain. They raise dairy cows and hope their milk is plentiful.

That's why, despite a year that has seen record-low milk prices for farmers, the mood is upbeat at the Alliant Energy Center this week for the World Dairy Expo.

Vendors and guests will come from all over the world for the 43rd annual event that begins today, and the waiting list for exhibitors remains long.

"When you gather with 65,000 other people who are in the same boat you are in, I think it does make you feel you're not alone, and with all these minds working together, you can remedy the situation," said Lisa Behnke, World Dairy Expo marketing manager.

Last year, 68,317 people attended the event. There were 2,884 visitors from 84 countries and 723 commercial exhibitors from 23 countries.

Trade shows have been hit by the economic downturn throughout the country, but the World Dairy Expo isn't among them. There are 750 exhibitors at this year's event, up from last year's record of 724. The waiting list is 250 deep, said John Rozum, the expo's sales manager.

"It's fun to be on the side that still has the waiting list," Rozum said.

Exhibitors and events include milking products, animal health products, virtual farm tours and a social networking seminar. The expo also features dairy cattle shows, with the big finale of the naming of the Supreme Champion on Saturday. Last year's champion, Thrulane James Rose, is back in Madison this week.

One product already getting some buzz is the OZy Manure Treatment System made by Patz Corp. in Marinette County. The mobile unit is designed to, among other things, remove the odor from liquid manure.

"Somehow when it gets on the field, there's no smell left," Rozum said. "That's really cool."

Other numbers speak to the event's good health despite the economy, Behnke said. The number of cattle registered was on par with last year, and sponsorships held steady after last year's record amount. Although the expo emphasizes dairy production and not products, the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association saw a 42 percent increase in entries for its Championship Dairy Products Contest. The winners will be auctioned tonight.

"They were just dumbfounded with the response," Behnke said.

Among the companies exhibiting for the first time is Waikato Milking Systems USA, from Janesville. It's the U.S. base for a New Zealand company and began operations in Janesville last fall.

While Waikato is a wholesale distributor, general manager Jeff Ponkauskas sees great value in bringing the equipment to the expo for the farmers to see it, too. The economy isn't keeping anybody from looking, he said.

"People are out there looking for the future, for when things do turn around so that they have options," he said.

The number that remains a question for the World Dairy Expo is attendance, but Behnke doesn't expect the economy to create a big dip there.

"People come here because it is worth their time to spend five days here and go home and make money with these ideas," she said. "If there's ever a year when World Dairy Expo is worth a dairyman's time, this would be it."