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Dakotafest attendance unofficially equals 2012 numbers

Still a week after the event, Dakotafest organizers said official attendance numbers are unavailable for the Mitchell-based popular farm show.

Director Ray Bianchi said this year's Dakotafest attendance equalled 2012 attendance numbers, which Bianchi estimated at 30,000 over three days. But then, as now, actual attendance figures were not disclosed.

"We had an issue with heat the first day," said Bianchi, noting that high temperatures and humidity took their toll on afternoon showgoers.

The Farm Bureau acquired Dakotafest and other Cygnus farm shows just days before the opening of Dakotafest. The show -- which ran Aug. 20-22 -- saw a 13 percent increase in livestock exhibitors compared with 2012, he said. Overall, the show signed 685 vendors this year — up from 585 last year.

Attendance, Bianchi said, was especially strong Wednesday for the town hall forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

"Another thing that was interesting is that we saw more traffic on third day which is atypical," Bianchi said.

Lyle DeKruif, a salesman for Scott Supply, a longtime Mitchell implement dealership, has attended every Dakotafest.

"It's gotten better," he said. "The number of vendors is up and there's a wider variety of equipment. It's a great place to show what you've got."

Like Bianchi, DeKruif also felt Wednesday had the greatest number of visitors. Tuesday was too hot and Thursday, he said, "was about average."

"Overall it was a good show," DeKruif said. "The nice part about Dakotafest is that it draws active farmers."

On the green side, Adam Squires, a precision farming expert for Fred Haar Implement in Freeman, said he and representatives from other area implement companies took turns manning the John Deere booth at Dakotafest.

"I thought the show was pretty decent, but I thought numbers were down a bit," he said. He guessed the larger show may have spread visitors more thinly.

On balance, Squires said he and his colleagues had good interaction with customers.

Jeff Larson, owner of Quality Homes in Mitchell, said visitor traffic was steady all three days through his company's model homes. "Dakotafest has always been a good place to showcase our houses," he said.

Bianchi said Farm Bureau management may consider starting Dakotafest earlier in 2014 so the show will not conflict with the start of the school year. That will free up parents and allow more students to attend, he said.

Bianchi said it will take time for his staff to make the transition from a corporate- to a non-profit show environment under Farm Bureau ownership, but all are accommodating well.

Bianchi said he hopes to have a new, permanent education facility completed on the show grounds in time for Dakotafest 2014.

"We're looking for a sponsor for a permanent education facility much like what we have at our Minnesota Farmfest show," he said.