Farm economy puts a damper on Dakotafest attendance

Nathan Tjaden, of Clear Lake, left, browses at cattle equipment with Randy Fawcett, East River South Dakota salesman for Titan West Inc., Thursday during the IDEAg Dakotafest, held at the Schlaffman farm in Mitchell. (Sam Fosness / Republic)
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The farm economy loomed over every part of Dakotafest in 2019, right down to how many exhibitors and showgoers showed up.

Dismal markets were a key topic at the annual three-day farm show, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday at the Schlaffman Farm on the edge of Mitchell.

Randy Fawcett, who works as an East River salesman for Titan West Inc., said the farming economy has hurt sales made at the show. His company sells cattle equipment, ranging from feeders to chutes. But when it comes to buying, the number of attendees ready to purchase equipment comes to a halt.

“We have a lot of people interested in many of our products, but the checks just aren’t being made,” Fawcett said Thursday. “It’s been a tough year in the agricultural realm, but it’s good to see the interest is still strong.”

Justin Huss, owner of Dell Rapids-based J Bar H Welding, was a returning vendor at the show, one of about 500 on hand this week. He said he felt the amount of booths set up at the event was on par with the previous year.


Depending on the booth and lot size, the rates for vendors start at $1,600 and increase to roughly $3,095, according to the Dakotafest vendor sign-up information.

Tuesday's high of 92 degrees put a dent into attendance on the opening day, while milder weather on Wednesday and Thursday gave the show a chance to have attendance bounce back.

“There were definitely much less people on the first day this year compared to last year, and it shows you how much the weather plays a role in people coming out for the show,” Huss said, in his booth which — perhaps appropriately — featured a shade structure for cattle. “It’s picked back up though the past two days.”

Niki Jones is the marketing manager for IdeaAg, which owns and puts on the show. An official attendance figure won't be known until Friday, Jones said, but she said a lower turnout is expected compared to last year. She said it's common for the show attendance to fluctuate based on weather.

“The weather played a major factor on the first day, but the agriculture industry leaders and congressional representatives sessions were very highly attended,” Jones said. “People were very interested in the trade and tariffs and hemp education sessions, which shows that people haven’t lost that same passion for farming.”

Despite the struggling farm economy and weather woes, Jones said she enjoys witnessing how many fellow farmers unite to take part in the Dakotafest farm show.

“I know this year is a tough agriculture economy, but farmers tend to find community in each other when times get tough,” Jones said Thursday. “And that’s when you want to see people come together and find solutions what we love to see at Dakotafest.”

Nate Franzen, who is the president of First Dakota National Bank's Ag Banking division, said Wednesday he wouldn't have been surprised to see things be down this year. He said events like Dakotafest can end up being a casualty when farmers have to make tough decisions.


"You hope it's a great show, regardless of the various factors," he said. "It's still a really important event, even in times like this, where some might say, 'I can't afford to be there, I just don't have the time to be there.' It can be beneficial and it can help everybody move their operation forward."

Nathan Tjaden, of Clear Lake, left, browses at cattle equipment with Dale Link, salesman for Titan West Inc., and Randy Fawcett, East River South Dakota salesman for Titan West Inc., far right, on Thursday during the IDEAg Dakotafest, held at the Schlaffman farm in Mitchell. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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