Loyal family’s tradition will be big part of 2022 Farm Tech Days
by Dean Lesar
There were 995 days left from Monday until July 12, 2022, the day Roehl Acres southwest of Loyal will open its farm operation to thousands of visitors from across the state. Chuck Rueth and the Roehl family are already counting them down.
Rueth is the chairman of the Farm Technology Days executive committee that will oversee aspects of the statewide farm show from planning demonstrations to organizing parking for the 3-day event. He was also chair of the event when it was held at Malm’s Rolling Acres northwest of Loyal in 2005, and from that experience knows the 995 days will pass quickly. Or two years, eightmonths and 21 days. Or 142 weeks and one day, however you want to measure it, he says.
The Roehl family was introduced Monday afternoon as the hosts for the 2022 show that will seek to blend family farming tradition with the innovations that allow today’s agrarians to produce the milk and crops that help feed the state and nation. The 750-acre operation sits mostly along Miller Avenue and 26 Road southwest of Loyal, and involves four families who have been involved in the farm for the last 50 years.
Roehl Acres was selected recently from among six farms in Clark County who applied to be the 2022 show hosts. The county was selected as the host earlier this year, and went through an application process to find a specific farm that has ample acreage and other amenities necessary to accommodate tens of thousands of visitors.
Richard Halopka, Clark County’s dairy agent and a member of the executive committee, said he was a bit anxious as the late September application deadline neared and no farms had yet applied to be the host. The veteran Rueth assured him it would be no problem.
“Chuck says, ‘Don’t worry. It’s typical. They’ll come in the last day,’” Halopka said.
And they did, six of them, which left the committee with what Rueth described as a “very hard decision” to select one.
“Any one of the applicant farms could’ve done the show,” Rueth said Monday at a media day held at Rustic Occasions, a former dairy barn on one of the Roehl family farms that has been converted into an event center. One of the attractive components of the Roehl family’s pitch was its tradition of familes on typical central Wisconsin farms. That legacy helped inspire the “Where Tradition and Technology Meet” slogan for the 2022 event. “I think the tradition story is going to be very strong,” Halopka said Monday. That story, said Dennis Roehl, began in the late 1960s. His parents, Lowell and Velora Roehl, purchased their 26 Road farm in 1967, while Uncle Erlin and Aunt Bonnie Roehl bought one nearby on Miller Avenue the following year. Both of their families worked through the decades milking cows and expanding crop acreage as it became available.
Erlin decided to stop milking cows in 2003, and Lowell and Dennis decided then to milk herds at each site. They
DEAN LESAR/STAFF PHOTO later combined the herd into one large free-stall operation, which today has about 500 head of registered dairy cattle.
Dennis said he left the farm for a few years to get his college degree in agricultural engineering, then returned in 1991. He farmed with Lowell until he and his wife, Suzie, took over the operation in 2005. Dennis said Monday that he credits his father with allowing him to take on the responsibility of ownership as he saw fit.
“He stepped back. He didn’t look over my shoulder,” Dennis said. “He let me make my own mistakes.”
Dennis moved all the cows into the free-stall building in 2011, but chose not to build a parlor. He still milks in the old 114-stall traditional barn, with 2 1/2 switches for each milking. Seven employees help him get everything done.
Dennis said the real spark for hosting the 2022 show came a long time ago, in 1983 to be exact, when he and Lowell were walking through the Tent City as the former Clark County Health Care Center farm on Highway 29 east of Owen played host that year.
“I said to Dad, ‘Now this would be something for us to have,’” Dennis said. “I never even dreamed we would have a chance.”
The Roehls did not make a pitch for the 2005 show in the county, and Dennis said Monday that he didn’t
“I said to Dad, ‘Now this would be something for us to have. I never even dreamed we would have a chance.” -- Dennis Roehl, on a conversation he had with his father 36 years ago about hosting Farm Technology Days
expect Clark County would get it again so soon. When news broke this spring that it would again be here, Dennis said he knew his family could do it. Since then, he said, he’s been telling the rest of the family how great it’s going to be.
“I’m probably more excited than the others,” he said with a grin. “Everybody’s warming up to the idea.”
The family tradition will be a big part of the story the Roehls will tell in 2022. There will be field demonstrations with the latest machinery, perhaps a demonstration in drain tiling, and the usual 40-acre “Tent City” where hundreds of vendors will display their products. But, Dennis said, there will also be a connection to farming the way it has been done in Wisconsin for decades.
“I think it’s great to show what my Dad and Erlin and their families have done all their lives,” Dennis said. “It’s a great way to end their careers.”
Another unique aspect of the family story will be the recent development of Rustic Occasions. Erlin and Bonnie’s son Doug and his wife Kim refurbished the old barn on Erlin’s Miller Avenue farm and now host weddings and other occasions there. It started when Doug and Kim’s daughter was looking for a place to get married in 2017.
“She would want nothing better than to have her wedding in grandpa’s barn, and Rustic Occasions was born,” Dennis said.
The old barn will be part of the 2022 Farm Technology Days show and will serve as an example of a way traditional farms can be used for new business ventures.
“What do you do with an old barn other than tear it down?” Dennis said. “Why not turn it into an event center?”
Wisconsin’s show unique
Matt Glewen, Farm Technology Days general manager, said at Monday’s media day that the 2022 show in Clark County will carry on a tradition that’s unique to Wisconsin. It’s not only the largest annual show in the United States, he said, but the only one that’s not based at a permanent site.
Glewen said Farm Technology Days’ origin traces back prior to 1954, when the first show was held near Waupaca. In prior years, UW-Madison organized an event to familiarize farmers with new technology such as electricity, machinery and seed hybrids.
“After World War II, we had a huge influx of technology in agriculture,” Glewen said. At the first events on the UW-Madison campus, organizers found that only farmers within a small radius were attending. They were only able to travel between morning and evening milkings, so a decision was made to start moving the show around the state so more farmers could have easy access.
“Farmers weren’t going to get to the show unless it came to their locality,” Glewen said.
Farm Technology Days is also unique in that it’s the only farm show in the nation that’s organized by local volunteer groups. Glewen said FTD belongs to an association of other shows in the country, and he said other organizers don’t know how Wisconsin pulls it off every year.
“They just shake their heads. They think we’re nuts,” Glewen said.
There are benefits to host counties other than showcasing their best farms. Glewen said counties that host shows build connections that last for years afterward.
“There’s also a whole lot of volunteerism that turns into leadership,” Glewen said. “You might call it a leadership symposuim that lasts 3 1/2 years.”