By Brian E. Clark
MADISON — By the time the five-day World Dairy Expo wraps up on Saturday, somewhere between 60,000 and 65,000 people will have streamed through the Alliant Energy Center to view displays from a record 810 vendors and look at some top milk cows, too.
The event is the largest gathering of all things dairy in the world, officials say, and brings together business people, manufacturers, scientists and farm folks from around the globe. It’s also starting to outgrow its current venue, which could lead to adding 100,000 square feet of space to the Alliant campus.
The Expo, now in its 45th year, has a big financial impact on Madison and surrounding communities, where hotels are running close to full for the conference, an Internet search shows.
Milk prices have been trending up in recent months and attendance is expected to be higher this year. And if this year is anything like 2010, the dairy folk will spend more than $15 million and perhaps as much as $18 million.
That would be up from last year, when a Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau economic impact study shows Expo goers spent more than $15.2 million.
Judy Frankel, spokeswoman for the bureau, called the show a “very big deal for Madison and a wonderful way for the city to showcase to people from around the world all the things we can offer the dairy industry.”
Janet Keller, communications manager for the event, said while dairying is often a difficult business in which to make a living, the mood at the Expo is positive.
“Milk prices have been stronger, so people are feeling good,” said Keller, who noted that 50 additional companies are showing their wares compared to last year’s show.
“We’re very pleased with that,” she said.
Keller also said more than 2,500 cows of all ages will be exhibited and that number is up from last year, too. The additional 50-plus cows forced show managers to add another tent to the Alliant grounds, she added.
The Expo is the “most networked, dairy-focused gathering in the world,” Keller said.
“Not only does it bring many dollars into the local and state economy, but the additional international business that is generated here because of the networking, it generates a lot of money for companies all over the country.”
Keller said countries ranging from Turkey to Russia to China are adding dairy cows to their herds as milk and cheese consumption in those countries grows and dairy farmers seek to update aging or antiquated systems.
Casey Langan, a Wisconsin Farm Bureau spokesman, said the Expo reflects well on the state’s vibrant agricultural sector.
“World Dairy Expo makes Wisconsin the epicenter of an industry,” he said. “It brings a global audience to our dairy farms and agribusinesses and the value of that kind of exposure continues to grow.
“Just as global dairy exports from Wisconsin continue to grow in value, so do the financial impacts from hosting the World Dairy Expo. Not only does it act as an annual economic stimulus during the show, but it fosters many long-term business relationships.”
He agreed with Keller and said the Expo results in increased sales of dairy equipment, live cattle and genetics that originate in Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin remains an attractive place to milk cows for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Dairy cows excel in a cooler climate such as ours and our adequate rainfall allows us to grow the crops needed for feed.”
In addition, he said dairy farmers benefit from the dairy infrastructure that Wisconsin boasts.
“We have markets for our milk from our value-added cheese plants, world-class dairy research on our campuses, and agribusinesses that service our farms and help keep our rural economies ticking. Hosting World Dairy Expo remains a jewel in the crown of America’s Dairyland.”