From John Shutske: Transitions in Wisconsin Farm Technology Days

As work continues on the nEXT Generation model for Cooperative Extension, we must critically evaluate our role in supporting educational events, including Wisconsin Farm Technology Days (WFTD). While the nEXT Generation transitions and structural changes will extend into 2017 and beyond, we know that we will have fewer total people in county and campus positions.

In late 2015, I appointed a UW-Extension WFTD task force co-chaired by George Koepp of Columbia County and Heidi Johnson of Dane County. The task force recommended a phased move toward a smaller educational footprint of Extension-coordinated WFTD activities. The task force also recommended that the county agent in future host counties NOT serve in the executive secretary leadership role beginning with the 2019 show. Counties are chosen by the state board of directors three years in advance, meaning that we’d be picking a host county for 2019 in this first half of 2016. This executive secretary role occupies a substantial portion of the time for four different agents at any given time, and in the actual year of a given show, that agent works nearly full time JUST on WFTD in the final months.

The following task force recommendations have been accepted by Cooperative Extension leadership:

2016:

  • Extension will continue to coordinate the entire educational area but will plan for an eventual hand off of the partner/agency organizing role and their move to different tents

2017:

  • Extension will hand off farm tour coordination to the county committee
  • Extension will not coordinate farm tours in 2017 and beyond
  • Extension will transfer coordination responsibilities of the non-UW educational displays to partners, though there will still be two tents

2018:

  • Extension will coordinate one UW-Extension education tent and small field area, and no longer be involved in any non-UW-Extension displays or partner coordination
  • The county committee will fully coordinate the farm tours

2019

  • Extension staff will no longer serve in the executive secretary role

With these accepted recommendations in mind, on April 6, the WFTD Board of Directors decided to build on the success of the new county coordinator role, established at the 2015 Dane County show. Beginning with the 2017 Kewaunee County show, the WFTD Board will provide  funding as a co-investment with the county to support county-level coordination. That person will work closely with the county agent, who will remain in the executive secretary role. A similar arrangement will support the 2018 Wood County show. Beginning in 2019, the WFTD Board will work with counties to provide a larger co-investment with host counties, with the county coordinator playing significant parts of the coordination role that the executive secretary now plays. The newly reorganized county/area Extension office and staff will not be expected to play a leadership role.

Additional recommendations include:

  • By 2018, have one Extension tent with only Extension displays (including agents and campus specialists)
    • Prime location for this tent to get traffic
    • Fewer, higher quality educational displays (10 or fewer interactive displays)
    • Larger budget provided to each team/educator to provide and create displays
    • Local educator(s) selects theme of educational displays based on local ag issues
    • Specialists and ag agents participate “by choice” in educational displays if the theme relates to their work
    • Outdoor display plots should be included if possible
  • Any other educational displays should either be coordinated by the show management or by other governmental agencies (discussions on this have already started)
  • Master Gardener Volunteer displays should be associated with the Extension education tent only and all displays should have an educational role; they should not be expected to landscape the entire show or other areas