World Dairy Expo trade show

While prestigious cattle and trade shows are the two biggest focal points of the World Dairy Expo that begins Tuesday for the 49th year, the event’s international business component quietly draws some of the biggest players in the dairy industry who work behind the scenes making deals for their respective companies.

“You can ask a number of people who go to Dairy Expo how many commercial exhibits did you see and they’ll say they didn’t see any. Ask them if they saw the dairy show and they’ll say they didn’t have time. That’s because there are so many side meetings that take place that are beyond and away from what is the formal structure of the World Dairy Expo,” said Ben Brancel, the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Instead of walking around the Exposition Hall, Veterans Coliseum and other parts of the expansive Alliant Energy Center grounds, leaders from international organizations and companies will spend much of this week negotiating deals in places like the Governor’s Conference Room at the State Capitol, the Monona Terrace, DATCP offices and in hotel conference rooms around Madison, Brancel said.

“There are huge opportunities for trade and innovation for a number of organizations. There’s collaboration all over the place,” said Scott Bentley, general manager of the Dairy Expo.

Brancel said the biggest opportunities at this year’s Dairy Expo will come from some key decision-makers of a new dairy operation in China that will become the world’s largest, with a whopping 100,000 milking cows when it opens. By comparison, the largest dairy operation in the United States has 30,000 milking cows.

It is being built in Mundanjiang City in northeast China near the border with Russia and it will ship all of its milk to Russia, where there’s a shortage because of that country’s import ban on agricultural products from the U.S, the EU countries and others. Russia is providing land to feed the cows.

So there are lots of opportunities for companies involved in state-of-the-art parlors as well as genetics and nutrition for the new dairy operation in Asia. “There’s a lot of technology they are looking for,” Brancel added.

Some companies will be criticized this week for negotiating with the dairy, especially companies from countries that have farmers who have been hurt by Russia’s import ban that has led to a milk surplus in much of the world, Brancel said.

“I’ll tell you right now: If we don’t sell them a milking machine, somebody else will,” Brancel added. “If we don’t sell them the genetics, somebody else will. In the world marketplace, just because you don’t participate doesn’t mean you are changing the landscape. It just means you are not a player in the game.”

The devaluation of China’s Yuan, which has led to devaluation of currencies in much of the rest of the world but has helped strengthen the dollar, has led many international companies and organizations to cut back the size of their delegations, Brancel said.

Also, many international organizations’ chief executive officers are flying to Madison this year to negotiate, Brancel said. In the past, CEOs have usually stayed home and relied on their representatives to make deals.

“I’m not sure how the monetary structure of the world will impact us, but I know the efforts of the decision makers to get here shows they are still truly interested and still engaged in the commerce of the dairy industry,” Brancel said.

This is a crazy week for many people at DATCP, including Brancel, because it’s a golden opportunity to showcase the state’s dairy business on an international stage.

“To be able to attract the number of people from around the world to come and see our companies in and of itself would be much more difficult (without the Expo),” he said. “Even though we make the same effort (to draw international interest), the results are easier to come by because of the Expo.”

Staffers from DATCP work with U.S. agricultural attaches from every country to investigate every company or organization that wants to do business in Wisconsin, and that’s especially true in the months leading up to the Dairy Expo, Brancel said.

He added that some Wisconsin businesses get frustrated when DATCP turns up a negative report on a potential international partner. But so do international organizations, when they call Brancel to complain about the shortcomings of a state company.

Brancel meets with those state businesses when DATCP gets a complaint. “I have sat down with them and told them their service delivery system is not adequate and they have to either restructure their service or get different people doing it or just do it, period, or the agency will no longer highlight them as a possible resource for sales,” he said.

It’s a tough but necessary job, Brancel added.

“The long-term relationship (with foreign entities) is too valuable for the state of Wisconsin to have a company not do well and not be perceived well in another country when we attempt to try to have other companies do business there,” he said.

Find Brancel or somebody else from DATCP on the Alliant Energy Center grounds this week and they’ll almost certainly be accompanied by at least one owner of a state company.

They’ll also most likely be heading to a secret location somewhere around Madison.

“For our agency and the amount of work that we do providing avenues for businesses to sell products or people to get recognized and get introduced to buyers and sellers, this is a time of year that is almost beyond unbelievable,” Brancel said.


Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.