With a name like World Ag Expo, this event is bound to attract people from all over. Not only were some attendees arriving two-by-two, others were coming in a busload at a time. Progressive Dairyman was able to catch up with four different tours that made their way west to Tulare, California.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

Minnesota Milk
This was the first time the Minnesota Milk Producers Association offered a tour to California, reported Executive Director Bob Lefebvre. For the past six years it kept its focus around Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, but interest had been expressed to try a trip to World Ag Expo.

Forty-nine people, from 25 years old to 70 years old, participated this year. The group spent one day at World Ag Expo and stopped at other locations including Swanson Farms Almonds, Charles Alhem Dairy Ranch, Hilmar Cheese Plant, Concannon Vineyard and a day in San Francisco.

Minnesota Milk Board member and dairy producer Kristine Spadgenske and her husband, Mark, had always been interested in attending World Ag Expo and decided to participate in the trip this year.

Spadgenske’s favorite part of World Ag Expo was seeing the other areas of agriculture and various types of equipment on display. She also enjoyed visiting the Alhem dairy and learning about the challenges they face and the different routines in respect to those she encounters at her dairy in Menahga, Minnesota.


“The barns are so different than ours, which are focused around cold temperatures,” she said. “It was also interesting to note so many similarities [between California and Minnesota dairying].”

Finishing the trip with a tour of San Francisco and seeing the landmarks of the city was yet another highlight of her trip.

When asked if she’d go on another tour again, Spadgenske replied, “Absolutely, yes. Mark and I enjoy traveling and seeing how other dairies operate. In a heartbeat we would do it again.”

She indicated New Zealand would make for an interesting tour destination, which happens to be one idea Minnesota Milk has for a future trip. It also plans to keep up with its tours in the Upper Midwest and a return trip to California may find its way into the rotation, Lefebvre noted.

0412pd_lee_tours_3 Ken Natzke Tours
This was the 10th year that Ken Natzke led a tour to World Ag Expo and California’s countryside. This year he brought along 32 people from active dairy producers to a retired couple from Louisiana.

The tour stopped at seven dairies, an almond and wine grape operation, Hilmar Cheese Plant, Sunkist citrus processing facility, Western Milling, the Tulare High School Farm, San Luis Reservoir, a Spanish mission, the Salinas Valley, Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach and the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Doug Behnke, a dairy producer from Clintonville, Wisconsin, and Allan Kohn, a dairy producer from Krakow, Wisconsin, were two of the participants on this tour.

Behnke and his wife had heard a lot about World Ag Expo over the years and decided to take advantage of this opportunity to see a variety of dairy farms as well as other agricultural industries. Fresh off a trip to Ireland with Natzke, Kohn decided to try out the World Ag Expo tour. He had lived in California for a time but wanted a chance to see a variety of farms.

While at World Ag Expo, Behnke stopped by the GEA Farm Technologies booth, where he learned they have an app that will allow him to track his parlor performance while on the road. He’s looking forward to taking advantage of it when he gets a smartphone this summer.

Meanwhile, Kohn spent his time at the show researching computerized heat detection and temperature boluses for cows.

From the other stops, Kohn said he liked hearing the business sense of the California dairymen. An example he cited was when 12 producers came together to form Hilmar Cheese.

He also found it interesting to hear from the almond, walnut and orange growers. “I think their risks are much higher,” he said. “They have greater costs and regulations.”

Behnke echoed what Kohn said in regards to learning about the heightened regulations for buildings and water. He also noted how enthusiastic the farmers were about the future.

Kohn mentioned he would go on another organized tour like this again. “If you get in a car and go, you miss a lot of these stops,” he said.

Natzke is planning to continue his annual trek to World Ag Expo with tentative dates for next year’s tour set for Feb. 9-13, 2013. In addition, he has a trip organized for Ontario, Canada, in conjunction with the Royal Winter Fair.


This was DeLaval’s 16th annual World Ag Expo tour with 43 people in attendance, said Sybil Birmingham, marketing communications coordinator for DeLaval Inc .

In addition to a day at the show, the group stopped at four different dairies in California to see a double-20 herringbone parlor, two 60-stall rotary parlors and a double-40 parallel basement parlor.

Some of the dairies also displayed the Alpro herd management system they have implemented.

“The tours are a great way for dairy producers and sales representatives to gather ideas on what is going on in the industry for their own farms as well as see what is going on around them,” Birmingham said.

When the work was done, the tour group headed to Monterey Bay where they stayed at a resort on the beach. They spent a day at the aquarium, followed by dinner overlooking the ocean and a bonfire on the beach. “For some, it was their first time seeing the ocean,” Birmingham said.

For Wisconsin dairy producers Dale and Gloria Radle of Cranberry Creek Dairy in Mondovi, this was their second trip to California with DeLaval. The warm weather and promise of seeing new technologies is what brought them back again.

Dale Radle said he enjoyed stopping at the other dairies to talk with other farmers and learn how they are doing things. He is considering converting to a rotary parlor in the next few years and found it helpful to see more of them in action.

At World Ag Expo, Radle came across UV milk filter socks that have been found to reduce the somatic cell count in milk. He also saw a silage packer for the back of a tractor that would help remove air from a silage pile.

“It is always interesting,” he said. “If they offer it in another year or two, I’ll think about going along again.”

DeLaval’s upcoming tours include a Calf Feeder Tour set for April 4-5 in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and a VMS Freedom to Choose Tour in Ontario, Canada, this September with a day at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show included in the tour.


Vita Plus
According to Jon Urness with Vita Plus , this is the second time the company has hosted a forage tour in California. The tour, offered every other year, previously visited the West Coast in 2008.

In 2010, it had headed to Florida. It is growing in size with 58 custom harvesters and dairy producers taking part this year.

They came from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Kansas and Texas.

In addition to World Ag Expo, the group toured the University of California viticulture lab in Fresno, a dairy and a custom harvesting operation.

Max and Kris Carlson, custom harvesters and dairy producers from Fremont, Michigan, were invited to participate by their local salesperson. They made a “Mecca” of a trip out of it by also visiting family in North Carolina, California and Colorado along the way.


At World Ag Expo, Kris enjoyed looking at pasteurizers and took in one of the seminars offered by Progressive Dairyman . Max had his eye on equipment like spreaders, mixers and choppers. “I like to kick the tires and see what’s here,” he said.

They recently purchased a new Kuhn mixer and Max was able to talk with an engineer about a problem they’ve been having with it. He now thinks it can be resolved.

They both enjoyed visiting with other custom harvesters to learn about their equipment and the issues they deal with. Kris liked distinguishing the regional differences. “Their grain storage here is for grain coming in where ours is for grain going out,” she mentioned.

Kris said she’d be willing to go on another tour again. Like others interviewed, she would be most interested in seeing Australia and New Zealand.

Urness said it is more than likely Vita Plus will offer more tours. They are keeping an eye out for other locations, but there’s a good chance they’ll head back to World Ag Expo again in the future. PD

For more information on upcoming trips, please contact each of these companies and associations directly.

TOP RIGHT: Kristine Spadgenske (left) of Menahga, Minnesota, and Anne and Dave Buck (right) from Goodhue, Minnesota, participated in the Minnesota Milk Producers Association’s first tour outside the Upper Midwest. Photo by Dario Martinez.

MIDDLE TOP RIGHT: Wisconsin dairy producers Doug Behnke (left) and Allan Kohn (right) joined Ken Natzke as he led them through California’s countryside in his World Ag Expo tour. Photo by Karen Lee.

MIDDLE RIGHT: More than 40 people traveled with DeLaval to World Ag Expo. They also stopped at four California dairies and relaxed for a day in Monterey Bay. Photo by Dario Martinez.

MIDDLE BOTTOM RIGHT: Four Vita Plus attendees from southwest Wisconsin toured the facilities of Dias and Fragosa custom harvesters in Hanford, California. Left to right they are: John Wienkes, Dan Dannenberg, Bruce Dannenberg and Andy Schilling. Photo courtesy of Vita Plus.

BOTTON RIGHT: Kris and Max Carlson from Fremont, Michigan, enjoyed seeing the many types of equipment on display at World Ag Expo. Photo by Karen Lee.


Karen Lee
Midwest Editor