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Pierce County family prepares to host 2010 Farm Tech Days

The Peterson farm near River Falls will play host to Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. Pictured are Bev (left) and Roger Peterson, Michelle Jensen and Brad Peterson. The farm is at Highway 29 and Pierce County County Road E. Judy Wiff photo1 / 2
Michelle (Peterson) Jensen delivers supplies to her brother Kevin, 16, (first ladder) and friends Nathan, 14, (left) and Joe Dixon, 23, as the threesome touch up doors and trim on the traditional dairy barn. Existing buildings on the Peterson farm and the surrounding landscape are getting a spruce-up, along with major additions of a new milking parlor, free-stall barn and manure-handling system. Steve Dzubay photo2 / 2

RIVER FALLS -- Bev Peterson's father used to introduce her as "my daughter who said she never wanted to farm."

Her husband, Roger, never saw himself doing anything else.

Both grew up on area farms -- he on the Pierce County farm of his parents, LeRoy and Mary Alice Peterson; she on the St. Croix County farm owned by her parents, Maurice and Mary Ellen Vorwald.

Despite her earlier insistence that she would never marry a farmer, Bev changed her mind after she and Roger met at a softball tournament. He was so taken by the young woman that he persuaded a neighbor to introduce him.

Next year the Petersons will become the first Pierce County family to host Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors to their rural River Falls farm.

Actually Roger didn't have much trouble convincing his future bride that farming was the life for them, Bev admits now.

"I like doing outside stuff, so it was fine with me," she said.

She and Roger agree that a farm is the ideal place to raise children, including their five.

"It teaches them responsibility," he said. "It teaches them to think and take responsibility and take pride in what they do. I don't think there's any better place to raise kids."

Besides, she said, "You know where your kids are and what they're doing."

Son Brad, 26, has joined the farming operation full time. Daughter Michelle, 24, will come back to full-time farming in a couple of months.

The Petersons other three children are Tracy, 23; Brenda, 18; and Kevin, 16.

Roger Peterson's grandfather Oscar Peterson began farming on Pierce County Road FF land that is still a part of the family operation.

At 16, Roger bought a combine and started custom harvesting for area farmers.

While a high school senior, he bought 50 cows from his parents' herd and began milking on their second farm. He bought that farm in 1979, and he and Bev have lived there since they married 28 years ago.

Neither Roger nor Bev had attended an annual Farm Technology Days until weeks before a Pierce County farm family had to commit to hosting the 2010 event.

In early 2007 Pierce County applied to host the event in 2010, but even when the state Board of Directors accepted the application that April, no farm site had been chosen.

The host farm had to meet certain standards, including being on a main road, having light soils and being a family farm. The site also needed easy access to a large number of motel rooms.

As they pondered their decision, the Petersons attended 2007 Farm Technology Days in Green County.

"It was like holy buckets, this is huge," said Bev of her first reaction.

The tipping point in their decision was meeting with the Green County host family.

"They were really happy they did it," Bev said. "It brought the neighbors together."

When the Petersons first met with the organizing committee, they were asked if they planned any major alterations before the 2010 show.

"I said, 'No, what you see is what you get,'" Bev recalled. But their son's and daughter's decisions to farm changed that.

Now along with repainting and generally spiffing up the farm, the Petersons are involved in a major addition to increase their herd from 70 to 240 milking cows. This summer they are building a new free-stall barn, milking parlor and sand-manure separation system.

The farm will transition to sand bedding for the cattle. The new system involves using a separator to remove the bedding from the manure-laden sand, returning the bedding to the barn for reuse and pumping the manure into a 2.8-million-gallon lagoon.

The Petersons have already begun buying pregnant heifers and intend to bring their herd up to full size this winter.

"The kids want to take over. They want to own it," said Bev, saying that expansion was necessary if the farm is to support more families.

"It's easier to transition them in at a change time," Roger added.

The Petersons seem comfortable with the decision to expand at a time of low milk prices.

"I guess we've farmed long enough to know it's a rollercoaster,"

A county-sized job

It will take hundreds of people to pull off 2010 Wisconsin Farm Tech Days. A 12-person executive committee is working with 20 sub-committees on everything from publishing a cookbook to managing traffic.

"I don't think people realize what a big thing it is," Roger Peterson said. He and his wife have attended three of the annual shows, soaking up tips and excitement.

"You can go up and down a street three times and find something different every time," he said of his visits to the "tent cities."

Roger said regular exhibitors at this year's event near Madison, Wis., gave him a taste of what it will be like in 2010.

When he and another Pierce County committee member distributed information packets, some exhibitors immediately pulled out the card with the phone numbers for local motels and called for reservations to make sure they'll have a room next year.

Roger and Bev Petersons, who own the host farm, are pleased that their immediate neighbors are supportive of the event. Several are on the executive committee or chair other committees.

"All the committees are really working well with each other, and 'gotten so much accomplished already," Bev. Said.

"It's amazing how much effort people are putting into things," agreed Roger.

Both Petersons are on the executive committee and are liaisons to the grounds committee. Bev also serves on the toy tractor committee.

The show takes a lot of commitment from a lot of people, said Roger, who was pleased to see the way whole counties pull together and put in countless volunteer hours months in advance of each annual Farm Tech Days.

He recalled talking to the chairwoman of one county's family living tent, who talked about the weeks and months of preparation.

"When the show is over, it's kind of like your life is over," she told him.

"We've met so many people that we never would have met," said Bev, who is enjoying the role of host family.

"I can't believe how enthused everybody is about it and how it promotes agriculture," Roger said. "That makes you feel really good."