By Ross Dolan
The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
"The ag sector is doing very, very well," Bianchi said. "There’s plenty of growth and lots of interesting things happening."
Bianchi said Dakotafest’s exhibitor numbers are up about 7 percent from last year’s show, and the number of brands represented by those vendors will be up an additional 20 percent.
In 2010, the popular farm show had 640 exhibitors. About 685 have committed for the 2011 show. Additionally, the show, which added an entire avenue in 2010 in response to exhibitor demand, will tack on another 10,000 square feet of vendor space this year at the Schlaffman Farm site, just southeast of Mitchell.
The show’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday. Admission is $8 for adults and free for children 18 and younger.
This is Dakotafest’s 16th year, and interest is expected to be higher than ever, Bianchi said.
"Overall last year we had about 40,000 visitors to Dakotafest, and 27,000 of that number were considered to be qualified buyer attendees. We anticipate buyer numbers also will go up this year," Bianchi said.
Confidence has grown in the economy over the past two years and farmers are ready to shop, said Bianchi, who believes farmers are finding themselves in a better financial position than many others in this difficult economy.
"Much of their product is used for corn ethanol, or is exported to other countries, and they have products that are tangible -- they’re not selling air, they’re selling something that exists."
Land values are way up -- though not as high in South Dakota as other parts of the county, he said. The demand for farm property is so strong in Illinois and several other farm belt states, Bianchi said, that some investors have replaced foreclosed subdivisions with crops. The land is a lot more valuable with corn -- rather than a foreclosed house -- planted on it, he explained.
Dakotafest has developed an expanded following since the show’s Mitchell debut. It’s different from the many shows he’s managed, Bianchi said.
"Dakotafest is unique in that you have very strong local support for the show itself," Bianchi said. Also, the show draws vendors and visitors from a wide, 300- to 400-mile radius -- from western Iowa and Minnesota, northern Nebraska and even North Dakota.
"We get an interesting mix of livestock, soybean, corn as well as wheat farmers from western South Dakota and Nebraska, and we also get a good product mix, which is good for attendees," he said.
While some farm shows will weigh their product offering toward either livestock or crop producers, Bianchi said, Mitchell’s show offers a balance of products from both sides of the farming equation.
Dakotafest, reminded Bianchi, is a working show where businesses and producers meet to share the latest innovations in farm technology.
Vendors prefer the Tuesday to Thursday schedule, because that’s the core of the work week, whereas weekends tend to draw recreationally oriented crowds.
"Our exhibitors really want to see farmers," Bianchi said. "They want to see producers, and a mid-week show tends to draw producers who are there to buy product."
But it’s not all work all the time at Dakotafest. There’s plenty of food to eat and exhibits to see, Bianchi said.
"We have music and artisan exhibits, a full lineup of livestock and crop education programming at the South Dakota State University forum tent, exhibitors who sponsor giveaways, and other marketing events as well."
It takes a full three months to plant demonstration crops, move in machinery, and ready Dakotafest for opening day.
New this year, on the first morning of the show, will be a Top Producer’s Breakfast.
"We’ve invited the top 500 producers from the Mitchell area and eastern South Dakota to have breakfast with us," Bianchi said.
The featured speaker for the event is John Sanow, market analyst for DTN’s "The Progressive Farmer."
Sanow’s ag commentaries are featured in newspapers and on radio stations nationwide. Sanow will speak on the invasion of farm markets by financial entities. Since 2005, these entities have established a controlling interest in commodity futures, making farm markets more difficult to predict.
Sanow will speak about how producers can improve their ability to market their commodities within the realities of the new market model.