Jim Harsdorf
Jim Harsdorf
    SPRING VALLEY, Wis. – During the last week of September and first few days of October, Jim Harsdorf was busy getting manure hauled and corn chopped on his 600-cow dairy near Spring Valley. While field work is a typical activity at this time of year, Harsdorf felt the absence of one of his favorite fall events – World Dairy Expo.
    “Throughout the years, I have never missed one since 1967, until this year,” Harsdorf said.
    For the first time since it began in 1967, World Dairy Expo was canceled due to the pandemic. The event would have taken place Sept. 29-Oct. 3 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
    “It was such an odd week for all of us here at World Dairy Expo,” said Katie Schmitt, World Dairy Expo communications manager. “To not have the events take place and not see everyone we’re used to seeing at the show and not reconnect with friends and meet new friends made it an odd week and a hard week.”
    Last year, the expo had a total attendance of 62,000 people with 2,100 registered international attendees, 1,700 exhibitors, 400 volunteers and show staff, and 2,300 animals.
    While the show has grown since its first, Harsdorf said the excitement for the event has been the same since its inaugural year. At the time, Harsdorf was a high school student whose Minnesota 4-H dairy judging team had won the state contest and earned a trip to participate in the national competition in Columbus, Ohio. To help the team practice, their coach and extension agent raised money to rent a plane and fly to the newly-formed World Dairy Expo to watch the show.
    “For a high school kid coming from a 28-cow farm at the time, it was unbelievable to see some of these cows,” Harsdorf said.
    He and his team watched the cows parade the ring and the excitement of naming the first grand champion Holstein cow, Bayland Crescent Charmane, owned by the Allen Hetts, one of the founders of Expo and famed Holstein breeder of Crescent Beauty Farm in Fort Atkinson.  
    “We had our picture taken with her and Allen Hetts after the show in front of the globe,” Harsdorf said. “It was awesome for a bunch of young farm kids from Minnesota.”
    Harsdorf turned the trip to Madison into a yearly event and always looked forward to watching the Holstein show – a priority he makes when visiting the show even now. When Harsdorf served as a legislator in the Wisconsin Assembly in the late 1970s and 1980s, he made time to visit the Expo because he was already in Madison at the Capitol during the week.
    In the early 2000s, when Harsdorf served as the state’s Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the dairyman took a different role in World Dairy Expo.
    “We helped provide funding to build the buildings to make it as successful as it is,” he said.
     Regardless of the year, Harsdorf has the same feelings about the dairy event.
    “What I love about it is it brings everything a dairyman can want to Wisconsin and it’s right in our own backyard,” he said. “It brings together businesses involved in our industry. If there’s anything you think you might need for the dairy cow, you can find it being marketed at the dairy expo. If you want to see the best cows in the world, you can go to the dairy expo.”
    The five-day event is also special for Loren Olson, who milks 53 cows with his family near Hutchinson, Minnesota. After attending his first World Dairy Expo in 1968 at the age of 24, Olson has intermittently attended the show since then, exhibiting his family’s cows for at least half of the time he attends.
    “I get to see people I only get to see once a year, and many of them are from all over the country,” Olson said. “That’s the whole deal of it.”
    Other than the people, showing and seeing good cattle have been the other priorities for Olson at World Dairy Expo. Olson remembers spending time amongst the cows. Over the years, the buildings at the Alliant Energy Center have changed. For housing the cattle in earlier years, OIson liked being in small barns and tents.
    “The exhibitors were closer, and it was easier to get together then,” he said. “But I like the set of buildings they have now. It’s so much better all the way around. It’s a long walk but it’s better for the cows and the people. And the displays people put up for their farms have gotten a whole lot bigger and nicer. It’s something else.”
    In years past, Olson would use the show to help him get ideas for the genetics of his herd. With the evolution of genomics now, he said that priority of the show has changed for him; however, he said he enjoys walking the barns and watching the shows to see how his animals might compare to others.
     Although Olson is sad to not be traveling to Madison this year, he said he understands the decision to cancel the event.
    “That was the right thing to do,” he said. “We will just have to wait and get by until next year and hopefully some of this (COVID-19) stuff is answered.”
    Although Sept. 29-Oct. 3 lacked the physical gathering for the Expo, the staff kept this year’s memory alive by keeping the social media platforms and website active. On Sept. 29, WDE launched a new podcast fittingly called The Dairy Show. New episodes will come out every second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
    “Its intended purpose is using it as a place for the dairy industry to meet digitally throughout the year,” Schmitt said. “So, we’ll talk about cows and different aspects of the dairy industry year-round and of course cover some of those colored shavings moments and the people we love to see at Expo.”
    And although Harsdorf is missing his yearly trip to World Dairy Expo, he looks forward to when the event can resume in the future and continue his Expo attendance streak.
    “It’s just such a great place to showcase America’s dairy industry,” Harsdorf said. “I can’t overemphasize how fantastic it is.”