A Year Without Expo

A Year Without Expo

This article is a feature story in our 2020 Fall issue. 

Since the decision to cancel World Dairy Expo was made at the beginning of June, many of us have found ourselves wondering, “What do I do the first week of October?” 

While there is never a shortage of work to do on farms and students are busy with schoolwork, for 54 years, it’s become tradition to be in Madison for Expo that first week of October. And for once, that will not be the case. 

This summer, as friends proclaimed, “We need a show,” in reaction to the news, many of those involved with World Dairy Expo began recalling the early days of the show and the rallying cry that began the global tradition. 

We Need A Show

In 1963, more than five decades after the National Dairy Cattle Congress began in Waterloo, Iowa, cattle exhibitors grew concerned about their future at the show. While it was once an exclusive dairy event featuring the best herds in the United States alongside displays of equipment, organizers added competitions for horses, poultry, waterfowl, and rabbits in 1949 which started the demise of the legendary dairy show. 

As the organizers of Cattle Congress floundered to find their footing in the more diversified space, the dairy exhibitors began looking to the future. Spurred on by Wisconsin dairyman, Allan Hetts, saying “we need a show,” dairy exhibitors started meeting and making plans for a future beyond Waterloo.

They considered locations in St. Paul, Minnesota, Springfield, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio, but strong connections in Wisconsin and support from the state led the early organizers to Madison. 

The first of the Madison shows, held in 1967 and 1968, took place over 10 days and sported the name, World Food Exposition. According to Expo’s history book, We Need a Show, “The inaugural event boasted 10 World Food Forums, two World Youth Forums, World Home Economics Day, a Cinderella of the Dairy World, and the World Olympics of Dairy Cattle featuring the world’s largest dairy trophy.” There were banquets, dancing, nationally touring performers, dignitaries, and a modest trade show, but the show did not make any money. 

In 1969, a new name was given to the event, World Dairy Expo, and the show was shortened to five days. 1970 saw the move of major national events such as the intercollegiate and 4-H dairy cattle judging contests and the National 4-H Dairy Conference from their historic homes to Madison. These contests were also accompanied by the merge of the International Dairy Show with the fledgling organization.

It was not until 1971 that organizers finally created the show we know today. In the spring of that year, dairy leaders from across the United States met to discuss the need for a major dairy trade show. This need in the industry helped Expo find the financial footing it lacked as companies bought shares in the organization and made plans to exhibit at the show that fall. The 5th annual show saw the introduction of farm management workshops, Expo’s Recognition Awards, an emerging interest in craft and food exhibits meant to attract dairy farm women, and the move of the National Dairy Shrine’s annual meeting and recognition banquet to Madison.

The early organizers of World Dairy Expo certainly had their challenges as they worked to find the event’s role in the industry, but what saw them through those first few years was a focus on Expo’s core mission: To serve as a forum for dairy producers, companies, organizations and other dairy enthusiasts to come together to compete and to exchange ideas, knowledge, technology, and commerce.

Expo of Today

This mission that saw Expo through its beginning is what continues to guide World Dairy Expo today. Expo’s education programs have grown from farm management workshops to Expo Seminars, Virtual Farm Tours, Dairy Forage Seminars, youth-specific programs and Knowledge Nook Sessions alongside additional industry-led meetings and learning opportunities. In total, attendees of World Dairy Expo can learn from more than 40 educational events during the five-day show.

The Trade Show that began on the Coliseum floor in 1967 now spans the grounds and features more than 850 participating companies. Unique to World Dairy Expo, the Trade Show is the globe’s largest gathering of dairy-focused companies. Nowhere among the rows of interactive booths will attendees find a company that does not serve the dairy industry.

While some youth contests moved to Expo in 1970 more have since joined the ranks. Today, the International Post-Secondary, National Intercollegiate and National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contests are held at World Dairy Expo on Monday morning. The Central National FFA contests are held across the grounds on Tuesday along with seminars and activities designed for FFA members. Meanwhile, Expo’s own Youth Showmanship Contest and Youth Fitting Contest have grown to include participants from around the globe.

And of course, today, World Dairy Expo continues to host its world-renowned Dairy Cattle Show on the colored shavings. In 1967, 1,182 cattle walked through the Showring: 465 Holsteins, 257 Milking Shorthorns, 168 Brown Swiss, 112 Jerseys, 91 Guernseys, and 89 Ayrshires. By 2019, that number had more than doubled to 2,331 animals housed in the New Holland Pavilions and Cattle Tent.

A win on the colored shavings continues to be a driving force for dairy cattle breeders throughout North America. As a host of international shows, Expo provides the showring credentials necessary for an All-American or All-Canadian nomination and potential win.

Regardless of the reason someone comes to World Dairy Expo, the focus of the event remains evident. Expo continues to have its sights set on the mission of being a forum for dairy producers, companies, organizations and other dairy enthusiasts to come together to compete, and to exchange ideas, knowledge, technology and commerce.

What now?

The cancellation of World Dairy Expo 2020 has ripple effects throughout the global dairy industry. Companies and dairy cattle breeders build their marketing plans around Expo. They rely on the event to launch new products, put their genetics to the test in the Showring and make connections with buyers from around the world. Youth spend their summers preparing to compete at Expo and dairy producers see Expo as an opportunity to connect with their community and make new connections as well.

Without Expo this year, these opportunities don’t exist in the same format that we have grown accustomed to, but Expo remains committed to supporting the global dairy industry and its exhibitors. Dairy producers can browse new products and technology available to the industry using Innovation Unveiled on Expo’s website or search for dairy show cattle genetics and services with Expo’s new Pavilion Promotions, also found on the WDE website. There is a renewed drive to use social media to create a community of dairy producers around the globe and share educational opportunities.

Meanwhile, Expo’s staff and Executive Committee continue to meet and determine ways to return in 2021 with a strengthened show that continues the mission and vision that Expo’s founders established decades ago.

So while the global dairy community won’t be meeting in Madison this fall, World Dairy Expo is doing everything it can to ensure this is the only year we don’t all have plans to be together the first week of October.

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