Dakotafest back with more boothsNearly 600 exhibitors in Mitchell Tuesday through Thursday
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Drought or no drought, Dakotafest is back.
This summer’s dry weather has been major news at the farm shows he manages, said Ray Bianchi, group show manager for IDEAg, the marketing and management arm of Cygnus Business Media, which operates Dakotafest and four other farm shows nationwide.
“The drought hasn’t slowed down vendor interest to date,” Bianchi said earlier this summer. “We’re a lot larger this year, but we’re very aware that it’s a big deal for our producers and we’re hoping it will pass soon.”
Now in its 17th year, Dakotafest is promoted as South Dakota’s biggest farm show.
In 2011, Bianchi said, Dakotafest drew 30,000 visitors to its Schlaffman Farm site just southeast of Mitchell. The 2012 show will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.
Gate admission is $8. Children 18 and younger are admitted free, and parking is free.
This year, Bianchi said, Dakotafest will have 35 more exhibitors than the 550 it had in 2011. The show has added two more streets.
Dakotafest is set up like a small town, complete with streets and avenues. Exhibitors are assigned a street address, an arrangement that makes it easier for visitors to find vendors.
“Mitchell is located in the right part of the state and it’s a great place to do a farm show,” Bianchi said. “Its central location allows us to draw from nine neighboring states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan.”
Bianchi attributes the show’s growth to a dynamic mix of East River farmers and West River ranchers.
“We’ve got the cattle people, we’ve got the sheep people, we’ve got the bison people and we’ve also got the corn and beans people,” he said.
So what’s new?
Since it’s an election year, state and local politicians are signing up to participate in political forums.
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Democratic challenger Matt Varilek will face off in a 2 p.m. Wednesday debate in the SDSU Pavilion on the northwest corner of the grounds.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard is also expected to attend on Day 2, Bianchi said, and U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will visit the grounds Tuesday.
Farm shows must increasingly reflect the reality that agriculture is becoming technology driven, Bianchi said.
“Two years ago only 20 percent of the farmers in the United States were connected to the Internet, but that number is growing exponentially,” he said. “Today 46 percent are connected, a fact which shows the Internet has become an important part of most farmers’ lives.”
At this year’s Dakotafest, SDSU will do a half-hour seminar every day from 9 to 10:30 a.m. in the SDSU forum tent on Internet connectivity and farming.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Bianchi said, “because for the first time we will be able to show what the Internet is really doing to and for agriculture. The Internet is changing how farms are managed and operated. The Internet is also being used to plan and monitor crops and to keep a close watch on markets.”
One of the SDSU sessions, for instance, will deal with smartphone uses on the farm.
Bianchi said another development this year is online Dakotafest pre-registration that will give qualified producers free admission to the show. Those who pre-registered will be asked for feedback to assist Dakotafest management with the planning of future shows.
“We’re doing very, very well with that effort,” Bianchi said.