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World Dairy Expo – The Show Must Go On

There is no question that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world forever.  People everywhere are in lockdown and everything seems to have stopped.  While the dairy industry is an essential service, aspects of the dairy industry, such as the show niche have not been immune to the pandemic and has seen many of its major events wiped out for 2020.  The most recent casualty is the Superbowl of Dairy Shows, the mecca that attracts people from around the globe, The World Dairy Expo.   While the health concerns are valid, it does not mean that the show industry must stop. The Show Must Go On.

Why Was World Dairy Expo Cancelled?

The World Dairy Expo Executive Committee reached this difficult decision based on the public health orders and restrictions related to COVID-19 put in place and issued by Public Health Madison & Dane County. The Alliant Energy Center, home to World Dairy Expo, is a county-owned facility that falls under the jurisdiction of Emergency Order #3 and Forward Dane, the phased reopening plan for Dane County. Public health officials predict Dane County may be in the third phase of the plan when the World Dairy Expo is set to occur. This phase includes a limit of 250 people at outdoor events, eliminating any possibility that World Dairy Expo, as people know it today, can take place.

Why Now?

World Dairy Expo previously shared that a decision regarding the 2020 show would be made and announced on July 1. However, based on the Forward Dane plan, released by Public Health Madison & Dane County on May 22, and signed into action by Emergency Order #3, the decision to not hold World Dairy Expo 2020 was made earlier than originally anticipated. They hope the decision to announce this disappointing news sooner allows our exhibitors and attendees to save resources during this time of heightened economic hardships.

Change Location?

The World Dairy Expo board commented that the Alliant Energy Center and Madison, Wisconsin have been Expo’s home for 53 years. With this rich history comes critical infrastructure for a show of Expo’s size and scope. Beyond the physical footprint of the campus, World Dairy Expo relies on dedicated and trained volunteers, a paid labor force and established event partners.

Go Virtual?

World Dairy Expo will not be hosting a virtual show in place of the version of Expo we all know and love. Expo is so much more than the events that take place during the show. There is networking, camaraderie and a sense of coming home for so many, that unfortunately, can’t be recreated over a computer screen or mobile device.

So, Were Does This Leave Us?

The dairy show industry has seen a massive transformation over recent years.  Once seen as the place to showcase your top cows in hopes of selling a sire to an artificial insemination unit, or daughters for big money, the dairy show industry has become a much smaller niche that is akin more to a beauty pageant than the source for genetic advancement.  With pedigree cattle selling for a fraction of what they used to, and milk prices plummeting, those that exhibit on the tanbark no longer do it for profit, but more because of passion and tradition and the thrill of competition.  It’s for those reasons that the show must go on.

The Response on Social Media

Probably one of the most notable responses was posted by Grassion Schmidt, Grai-Rose Cattle Co.  & RuAnn Genetics Show Genetics & Boarding Services, on June 5th,

Due to the recent cancellation of World Dairy Expo and the many different options and opinions floating around I felt a need to copy and paste a letter I wrote (with the help of my wife of course) to the World Dairy Expo Staff. I’m not sure if this was ever presented to the board or not. As you can see by the date on the letter it was written a while ago. I think it sheds some insight as to the kind of event we could have with the right leadership in our industry.

December 7, 2018

Dear Staff and Leadership Team of World Dairy Expo,

Challenging times have fallen on the dairy industry – as we all know. More unfortunately, the hard times have stayed much longer in the low cycle than anyone could have anticipated. It is not a secret how people directly involved in milking, breeding, and owning cows are feeling right now. We are facing the hardest of times. 

However, the point of this letter is not to tell you depressing statements about aspects you already know. It is to, hopefully, bring to your attention ways I feel we can help the treasured industry that has given myself, many of you, and so many others, their start in life. I truly believe we can, and should, find ways to preserve this tradition. 

I am not proposing anything extreme or out of scope for what World Dairy Expo was originally founded. The start of World Dairy Expo was through the cattle show; bringing together people to share appreciation and support for the breeders and exhibitors who had come close to perfection in the art of breeding and developing show cows. I am proposing actionable steps to return back to what World Dairy Expo started as: a place to showcase the best dairy cattle in the world. 

Other than the name, World Dairy Expo has become a very unrealistic and impractical place to exhibit cattle. My fear, which is not unfounded and has in part already occurred, is that the dairy cattle show aspect will fall away. While the tradeshow is spectacular, the dairy cattle show is what lights excitement across the globe. It MAKES World Dairy Expo what it is. But, at what cost do exhibitors donate to the promotion of World Dairy Expo?

Exhibitors spend thousands of dollars every year to come to World Dairy Expo. In return for the money we spend in travel, hiring a crew, show displays, and other costs strictly associated with going to a general show … we receive from World Dairy Expo increased entry fees, sky-high hotel rates, and outrageous costs for feed, bedding, and display space. If we are lucky to do well in classes with cattle, our premium checks will hopefully match our entry fees.

My call to action for you, the World Dairy Expo Staff and Leadership Team, is to show a little bit of gratitude and start giving back to the exhibitors who fill your barns with the cows World Dairy Expo is celebrated for.

Rather than making this a non-sustainable venture, consider enhancing premiums – as many other shows around the United States and Canada have done – to offset costs that we know exhibitors have. Increased premiums would do so much for this sector of the dairy industry. 

World Dairy Expo maintains a full-time staff. Shouldn’t the team who makes a living from this event consider ways to make this event viable into the future? Someone from the staff could be directly responsible for sourcing sponsorship money – in relation to or in addition to income coming in from trade show exhibitor sponsorships.

I recognize World Dairy Expo has operating costs. I also am aware costs to be part of the trade show are not exactly pocket change for the companies paying to be at the trade show. However, I would be fairly confident, and I am sure you are too, most companies in the dairy industry have decided the cost of not being involved with World Dairy Expo is higher than being involved. So, they will continue to pay the fees. They will continue to rise up to the challenge to buy every square inch of space in which a logo can be attached. That feature of Expo won’t phase out very quickly, but if we do not start to show some appreciation to cattle exhibitors, the cow show will quickly become a past memory of World Dairy Expo. 

Why isn’t someone from the staff directly responsible for raising sponsorship money for the cattle show? 

Why is Supreme Champion at Madison not worth $50,000? Why is each breed champion not $30,000, with the same for Premier Breeder and Exhibitor? Perhaps consider donating the cost of a couple booths to make sure this accomplishment is rewarded. Is it out of line to think a class winner in a milking cow class should be $1,000? This is very much the case with every horse event, no matter how big or small. A substantial cash purse is awarded for winning.

Our industry is even able to do it! The British Columbia Spring Show is offering $200,000 in prize money! This is divided for a two breed show (Black & White Holsteins and Red & White Holsteins). If a small group of local volunteers are able to raise money like this for the exhibitors, why can’t World Dairy Expo with a full-time staff? If this were to happen at World Dairy Expo, cattle would be sold left and right – once again bringing value and marketability back to the industry!

Walking through the barns at Madison last year was depressing, to put it lightly, regarding the future of dairy farming and this niche of the industry. To put it bluntly, it was like a trip to the morgue. 

Very few cattle were being sold or even seriously looked at. Never before have I seen a group of people more down on our industry that is, for many, the reason they get out of bed in the morning. 

We all continue to come … so far … even though most of us really can’t afford to do so. Why? Because we are very passionate about this niche of the dairy industry and can’t take the thought of missing out. For many smaller sized dairy operations, this is farmer’s vacation. Unfortunately, a very expensive vacation is what it is becoming.

We used to offset costs by selling cattle, but that is no longer the case. Other than a medal and pat on the back, World Dairy Expo has devalued registered cattle. Large premiums could mean a revived market, a point to continuing to show up at World Dairy Expo, and maybe even life changing money for the small dairyman doing everything they can to survive in the industry.

It is really very simple. Start asking sponsors from alliance industries to contribute and show them exactly where their money will be applied. Make a promise to pass sponsorship onto the exhibitors who make World Dairy Expo more than a trade show – the most prestigious dairy event in the world. 

As the co-chairman of the Western Fall National Holstein Show, between my wife, my boss, and myself, with an admittedly last-minute sponsorship drive (three weeks prior to the show) we raised nearly $13,000 in extra prize money to go directly into exhibitor pockets! This was for a new event, located 700 miles from where we live and do business! I know the amount Word Dairy Expo could raise would be phenomenal and highly appreciated! 
Aside from the obvious industry sponsors who would donate, let’s think outside of the box. Maybe learn a lesson from the outstanding team at the All-American who does an incredible job with sponsorship as well. Where’s Carhartt? I can almost guarantee you, at one point or another during the week of World Dairy Expo, everyone on the grounds will wear something Carhartt. What about Coors Light? Crown Royal, McDonalds, Elmers Glue (Krazy Glue, we all use it), Yeti Products, Wrangler, Coleman Tents, Miss Me Jeans, Twisted X, etc. Put their logos everywhere – highlight them for giving back to the exhibitors – in the show ring, around the barns, in the hotels, and TV screens in between shows. Show them the advantage sponsoring this great event brings! 

Beyond the domestic dairy industry use of their products, we would be lying to ourselves if we said the only shopping international visitors do while in the U.S. is at the World Dairy Expo Trade Show. Tell clothing sponsors how many foreign visitors are on the grounds! 

I want nothing more than for World Dairy Expo to continue to be the meeting of the best cows for the best competition in the world. However, I am not too proud to recognize things need to change in order for this to continue. 

Give dairymen, of all sizes of operations, a little hope to move forward in the niche market that creates Expo. Help us revive the registered cattle market to what it once was. Do something to help bring new outside investors into the industry. 

I want nothing more than for the legends of the colored shavings to continue on for decades, but I am not confident the show will stay alive if things continue the way they are. It is too late for some in the industry already, but I respectfully ask you to please consider the actionable steps for the rest of us who are still hanging on, hoping for change before it is too late. 

Kindest regards,

Graisson D. Schmidt
Grai-Rose Cattle Co.
RuAnn Genetics Show Genetics & Boarding Services

So, What Happens Next?

At this point, it’s a moot point to argue whether World Dairy Expo 2020 should happen in any form.  Given the current pandemic there really is no chance it will happen in Dane County, and the Executive Board of WDE has decided that if it can’t happen at the Alliant Energy Center it’s not going to happen. 

However, just because World Dairy Expo is not going to happen and most likely most other shows, especially in the Eastern US and Canada, that does not mean shows are not going to happen.  The Western National Holstein Show in Richmond Utah is a go for September 3rd and 4th.  I have attended this usually Spring show for several years and the hospitality and level of competition held there is outstanding.    There is also going to be a show held in California that Graisson and others are telling me will be a great show as well.

The Bigger Question

It’s not how we can save World Dairy Expo, it’s how can we save the show scene. There is no question that attendance at cow shows has declined significantly and the number of exhibitors has become a more and more select group, especially at the highest levels.  We need to think bigger than just how to hold a show, we need to think about how we can host an event that will attract the attention of a larger audience.

For me, we need to look at the major sporting events like the National Football League’s Super Bowl.  These types of events draw a massive viewership from around the world, and it’s not just die-hard fans but it’s casual viewers as well.  How are they able to achieve this?  They put on a show, I mean, they make it interesting to watch.  The NFL has done such a good job making their TV product so good, there are many fans that prefer to stay home and watch the game on TV over even attending the show live.  With this widespread interest, the NFL has seen record revenues and the profits skyrocket.

The Dairy Industry’s Equivalent to the Super Bowl

If you are looking for an example of this in the industry, it has to be The Swiss Expo hosted in January each year.  This show puts on an event like none other.  Remember the Super Bowl, is more than just the two best teams in a Championship game.  It’s a whole production and event like none other.  While World Dairy Expo does unquestionably have the best cattle, it is not the best production in the world.  That honor goes to the Swiss Expo team.  They work tirelessly to always up the presentation level of their show.  They did this despite changing location this year because they had grown too large for the old amazing facility. Swiss Expo upped their game and took things to an even higher level. Jacques Rey and his team are not afraid to take risks. They are not afraid to try new things.  Sure, sometimes those things can receive mixed reviews, as did the decision to have attractive young ladies carrying the boxing style signs before the naming of grand champion. But the fact remains they take risks that generate interest.

While I totally understand the “tradition” that is the dairy show scene, I feel you can still honour tradition while evolving the industry.  Some great ideas for this are:

  • Having play by play announcers during the live stream of the show
  • Interview the winners after the classes to get the raw emotional responses
  • Engage the fans during the show to make them feel part of the show
  • Interview the judge after each Championship class
  • Create fan favourite awards

While I understand the requests to increase prize money, there has to be something that will make the corporate sponsors want to put up the cash.  That comes down to guaranteeing the eyeballs of their target audience.  Unless you can show these companies that they can be seen by their prospects, they are not going to be motivated to shell out the cash. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

This is certainly a time of great change in the world and in the dairy industry.  Nowhere is that more evident than the show scene.  We have the opportunity to not just extend a dying industry, but we have the opportunity to re-invent the industry so that it is greater than it ever was before.  That starts with taking this time to not just save a show, but to rethink what is a show and what enthusiasts actually want to see.  Until we do this, nothing is really going to change.  The show side of the dairy industry was in trouble before Covid-19 hit. The question now is “Covid-19 the nail in the coffin or the catalyst for change that revives the show industry”?

For those that are looking to get their cattle seen and the thrill of competition be sure to check out Coronashow 2020, the Bullvine’s Online Dairy Show, with a new extended deadline of July 31st. 

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