JOHNSON CREEK, Wis. – Mike and Sarah Walter must feel a bit like Yogi Berra. It will be “déjà vu all over again” when they host the 2019 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days at their Johnson Creek farm in late July.

Mike Walter’s parents, Bud and Bev Walter, hosted in 1984 the event when it was still known as Wisconsin Farm Progress Days. There have been a lot of changes in 35 years, but the same expanse of farmland will again accommodate Wisconsin’s long-running farm show.

Sarah Walter reflected on the 1984 show and how much the event – and agriculture in general – have changed since then.

“It’s so different,” she said. “I remember sales people standing at banks of phones to call in their orders. Now we have questions from exhibitors asking whether the show will have the internet coverage they need. We’ll also have a special area to fly drones.”

Unmanned-aerial vehicles were only a pipe dream in 1984.

But one thing hasn’t changed much. Sarah Walter did some research and found that in July 1984 corn was bringing $3 per bushel. In mid-May 2019 corn was $3.47 per bushel – less than a 50-cent difference in a 35-year span. She said 1984 soybeans were fetching $6.40 per bushel. As of May 2019 they were $7.60 per bushel.

The Walter farm also has undergone significant changes. The Walter family had in 1984 a large farrow-to-feeder pig operation in addition to their crops. They had as many as 350 sows by 1986, but with depressed prices in the late 1980s they left the pig business.

Mike and Sarah Walter purchased the farm from his parents in 1992. At that time the family was raising veal calves in addition to grain farming. They had as many as 550 veal calves before leaving that business in 2001. Since that time the couple has focused solely on crop production. They farm with their sons and daughters-in-law – Adam and Heather Walter, and Brad and Kristi Walter. Walter Grain Farms has one full-time employee who drives truck, hauling seed and fertilizer. Currently the family farms more than 6,000 acres of land that they own or rent.

Kris Duffy, manager of United Cooperative’s Johnson Creek branch, has been doing business with the Walter family for about 35 years. United Cooperative provides crop inputs as well as soil- and tissue-sampling services to the family.

Mike Walters is willing to try new technologies, but first gives them careful consideration, Duffy said. Technologies must show him how to make money.

“I’m also impressed by Mike’s innate ability to market crops,” Duffy said. “He knows his way around marketing concepts.”

Walters’ skill at managing water also contributes to his success, Duffy said. Walter and his brother, Jim Walter, purchased tile-drainage equipment in 1975. Together they provided tiling services for area farmers.

Mike Walter and his sons have continued the tiling business, which helps supplement farm income. That has helped during times of poor grain prices, Sarah Walter said.

“It’s all weather-dependent,” Mike Walter said. “Playing in the mud and drying fields for better yields is something we love to do.”

The Walters can install as much as 1 million feet of drainage tile in a season.

“Managing water is integral to help crops achieve their potential,” Duffy said. “When he can drain water early or quickly he can start fieldwork that much quicker.”

Walter Grain Farms and Timewell Drainage Products will provide tile-drainage installation demonstrations at the Walter farm during Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. Aaron Kassing, vice-president of marketing for Timewell Drainage Products, said with the amount of rain Wisconsin has received in 2019, the demonstrations will be timely.

Sarah Walter said when her husband was approached by Jefferson County to host the 2019 event, he agreed. Several factors led to the choice of Walter Grain Farms as host – among them the fact the farm has 500 contiguous acres on which to accommodate the hundreds of exhibits and activities. The farm is conveniently located near Interstate 94, and the host family was willing and able.

“The Jefferson County planning committee and volunteers have been excellent to work with,” Sarah Walter said.

She looked out her living-room picture window to the expanse of land that will in July become “Tent City.” She said she was thinking of the 1984 show and looking forward to the 2019 show. For her it was déjà vu all over again.

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Email to contact her.