Elwood Raycroft of Monkton is a retired dairy farmer, but he and his wife Olive, his sister Sharon Otterbein and her husband Keith still attended Stratford's massive Canadian Dairy XPO on Thursday, Jan. 6.
"You're always interested," he says of the profession. "I can't believe the changes in the dairy business. I started out with buckets and milkers…now it's robots."
It's this lifelong connection to the industry that feeds the quartet's curiosity despite retirement, attending the XPO, taking in the technological advances on display, and catching up with neighbors they haven't seen in a long time.
"It's in your blood," says Keith.
A year ago, the news out of the XPO's opening day was that, without any shadow of a doubt, it was definitely all worth the risks taken by ROI Event Management — under the leadership of Jordon Underhill — to bring a World Dairy Expo-styled event to Canada.
Exhibitors were unanimously thrilled with the exposure, the “Cow Coliseum” — in the form of a temporary “cover-all” style structure connected directly to the Stratford Rotary Complex where the event is held — was a huge highlight, and shuttle buses were hastily hired to bring visitors from the far-flung parking spots that XPO visitors were forced to utilize as the day wore on.
This year, Underhill promised bigger and better, with both of the Rotary Complex’s ice surfaces as well as a labyrinth of lobby, meeting room and spectator areas, added to the trade show display space. And, in general (unlike last year, when the event’s first-time status still left some doubt), industry insiders were confident that ROI would deliver.
"We're close to last year's numbers or over," ballparked Underhill on the event's final day, adding the snowy weather conditions earlier in the week did little to dampen attendance.
"It didn't affect us as much as I thought it would," he said.
Underhill also pointed out the importance that robotics play in modern milking, citing the fact two companies chose to launch their newest mechanized products at the show.
"The robot craze is definitely on," he said.
But robots weren't the only items being exhibited at the XPO. There were booths dedicated to a variety of products, all dairy-related; from non-slip barn floors to fortifying calf milk, and from genetics to barn painters to teat disinfectants.
Daco Animal Nutrition, makers of a vitamin and mineral-packed feed pre-mix, was one of several Stratford companies showcasing its wares at the Rotary Complex. Daco dairy nutritionist Virginia Gee noted it wasn't as busy as she expected it to be, but chalked it up to the weather.
"People we know were on their way from Mississauga yesterday. They made it as far as Cambridge and had to turn around," she said.
Still, others from across North America made the long haul to Stratford regardless of snow that cancelled school buses in at least some parts of the Stratford area. Among them were a group of about 35 dairy producers from New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland. The group had been on a tour of three nearby dairy farms on Feb. 4, and planned to spend the next two days at the XPO.
“Time away from home!” was the first reason given by central Newfoundland’s Olive Greening, smiling at her husband Jeff when asked why they joined the tour. She quickly added, however, that the couple — who milk 225 cows in a freestall set-up under the herd name Sunrise Dairy — are also planning to build a new heifer barn, and wanted to get some ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
Jason Martin, an Arthur-area farmer visiting the XPO with his wife, Charmaine, and their two children, also mentioned the offer of escape presented by the event.
"This time of year, you gotta get outta the barn somehow," he said. "It's been a tough winter just keeping the equipment going because of the temperature. It keeps freezing up."
Sandra Willer came all the way from Germany to represent EuroTier, the world's largest dairy exposition. Her organization boasts 160,000 annual visitors, and covers 250,000 square metres. This was her first time in Canada.
"It's really interesting talking to Canadians," she said, noting, "a lot of people in this area are from the Netherlands and Germany and still have that connection to Europe."
Stratford-based agent for The Co-operators Insurance, Peter Maranger, has known for almost exactly one year where he would be on Feb. 5-6, 2014. That decision was made in his mind when he walked through the doors of the Stratford Rotary Complex and experienced last year’s first-ever Canadian Dairy XPO unfold before him.
“Last year was so successful, we felt we just had to get involved,” Maranger said early in this year’s XPO opening day.
Maranger and other Co-operators staff were volunteering at the entrance, sporting Canadian Dairy XPO t-shirts, offering assistance, and handing out maps. The backs of those t-shirts were filled with logos of the event’s numerous sponsors — including, for the first time, The Co-operators.
Maranger was among those who weren’t surprised at the XPO’s sophomore success. He said the marketing opportunities of deciding to become an event sponsor are one thing but, as a well-known Stratford-and-area booster who regularly throws his support behind community causes, he also wants The Co-operators to get involved in things that are “good for Perth County.”
And the Dairy XPO, which has now cemented its status as the second largest dairy-focused exposition in North America (after the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin), is definitely good for Perth County, he stressed.