The Henty Machinery Field Days was set to showcase over $120 million worth of machinery and goods on-site at its September 22 to 24 event the 57th consecutive year since its inception in 1963.
However, an announcement the event will not proceed this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, highlights the plight Field Days face in 2020.
Every field day scheduled since March 2020, to date, has been abandoned costing organisers millions in lost income.
This has left local communities that rely on the distribution of the field days funds, severely short funded.
With the recent announcement that government funding up to $36 million has been made available for country shows, it seems there will be little option but for up to $50 million to be fed into empty field days coffers
The Henty Machinery Field Days is one of the nation’s largest field days and outdoor agricultural event, with an economic value of more than $92 million flowing back into local businesses and the community.
“It has become apparent the field days will not be able to go ahead in 2020,” Henty Machinery Field Days chief executive officer Belinda Anderson said.
“Without a clear path to the end of this pandemic and the full easing of social restrictions, the obstacles to running a successful, and more importantly safe Field Days, were insurmountable.
“We are a national event and with state borders closed we would disappoint all our exhibitors from interstate along with the many visitors we have who attend from around the nation and overseas.
“This has been a difficult decision for organisers knowing it would disappoint all of our stakeholders, including members, staff, sponsors, exhibitors community groups and visitors.”
“The field days have been cancelled twice in their history due to economic recession in 1970 and 1971, and regrettably the HMFD Board was forced to make the call to cancel 2020.
“We are devastated for the region, our volunteers, the 22 community organisations, thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors – it will be sorely missed.” Mrs Anderson concluded.
The Henty Machinery Field Days now joins the long list of devastated events across the country that have cancelled in the wake of the world’s most devastating pandemic for over 100 years, the Coronavirus COVID-19.
And while many have battled to keep their events alive, only to finally succumb to the overwhelming forces against them, it was fortuitous that the Dowerin MFD made that call much earlier than others.
The Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days committee cancelled the 2020 event back as early as early April.
But at the time kept a positive outlook with all efforts going into the 2021 event to be held on 25 and 26 of August.
The community spirit behind field days is shown clearly in the Dowerin GWN7 MFD model.
The event was derived from the need to raise funds to construct a dam in order to water the town’s sports ovals and tennis courts.
And from its humble beginnings in 1964 with roughly 20 exhibitors, the Dowerin Field Days has grown to become WA’s largest agricultural expo.
Visitor numbers have grown in excess of 25,000 with 770 exhibitors attending.
Approximately $3 million a year goes back into local businesses and the community due to the influx of people who flock to the town of Dowerin for the event.
In addition, between 2006 and 2019 the organisation directly injected $1.7 million of its earnings into the local and surrounding communities through grants and volunteer hours.
It’s for the first time in its 56-year history since 1964 that the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery field days will not go ahead for 2020 due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic.
Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field days chairperson Nadine McMorran says, “We are certainly looking forward into the future, this is the next chapter in our history and our community.
“We are incredibly proud of what this Field Days has achieved in the past 56 years and it is still an exciting prospect on what we can achieve for the next 50-plus,” Nadine believes.
“We are all systems go for 25th and 26th of August 2021, and look forward to hosting another successful event,” Nadine concluded.
If you follow the fate of another one of the biggest Field Days events, AgQuip, held at Gunnedah NSW, it sums up what many of the smaller field days have experienced as well.
Not wanting to lose record bookings from one of the best seasons in over three years, Ag Quip organisers have taken their fight to run a 2020 Field Days to the grisly end.
In early May organisers announced they would reschedule the event from its regular August slot to a mid-November AgQuip for the first time.
Organisers stated at the time, “There is no way a virus will be allowed to beat Australia’s biggest field day – AgQuip at Gunnedah NSW.”
That was a lot at stake with more than 100,000 farming professionals turning up each year to view over 3000 products and services at this world class event.
ACM Rural Events Group Manager Kate Nugent commented that the coronavirus has struck on what is turning out to be one of the best, most fruitful periods for Australian agriculture in years.
“With the drought easing its grip on vast areas of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, the economic outlook was better than it had been for the past few years,” she said.
Farmers who hadn’t produced a crop for many seasons were anticipating excellent harvests.
With pastures and flocks thriving too, people on the land were being offered the opportunity of replacing and updating equipment, in a way they hadn’t dared to consider for some time.
AgQuip Field days held at Gunnedah NSW first started on the Gunnedah Racecourse in 1973, and throughout its long history, the event has never shifted from the third week of August.
However with the government COVID-19 ban on mass gathering the regular time slot of August has been re-scheduled to be staged over three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, November 10, 11 and 12 2020.
And while organisers are very confident the event will take place, it will be the only major Field Day event since March 2020 that has not been cancelled.
The organisers of AgQuip also stage the highly successful CRT FarmFest Field Days at Kingsthorpe, west of Toowoomba Qld.
Normally held in June each year, the FarmFest event has been re-scheduled to 13 to 15 October, but it too will be under a cloud unless the government COVID-19 ruling regarding events of 500 plus patrons is changed prior to the event.
FarmFest is among one of the largest outdoor agricultural industry events and gathers over 60,000 farming families and consumers attending each year.
The AgQuip and FarmFest experience has been repeated countless times as almost every field day committee tried to reschedule their event into the second half of the year.
However, with the confirmed cancellation of Henty MFD it appears the option to postpone event time slots to later in the year has been exhausted for 2020, at least for now.
With heavy expenses biting at the purse strings of many medium and small field day events they have turned to the government to expand the $36 million to support program announced for agricultural show societies.
Currently Field days are not eligible under this program that offers agricultural show societies the chance to recover from the effects of COVID-19, ensuring they can continue after the pandemic has passed.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt agricultural shows, with most expected to be cancelled for 2020 in the interest of public health and social distancing measures.
“These shows are estimated to contribute $1 billion to the economy each year and attract 6 million patrons annually, supported by 50,000 volunteers.
“They create social bonds and improve mental health in parts of regional Australia where distance, drought, bushfires and now COVID-19 have caused significant hardship and distress.”
Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said the Supporting Agricultural Shows program will provide a one-off reimbursement to agricultural show societies to deal with cash flow pressures caused by COVID-19 related cancellation of agricultural shows.
“This funding supports not only the big Royal Shows in each capital but right down to the small country show, because we acknowledge the role shows play in connecting agriculture and regional Australia to metropolitan Australians,” Minister Littleproud said.
“There is a real risk that if we don’t help that not only could Royal Shows cease to function the way they are now but also those small shows all of which are run by volunteers could fold.
The $36 million Supporting Agricultural Shows program comprises three components:
$10 million in operational support for local show societies.
Shows will be able to claim up to $10,000 if their attendance last year was less than 2,000, up to $15,000 if their attendance was between 2,000 and 4,999 and up to $70,000 if their attendance was over 5,000
$26 million in operational support for Royal Agricultural Show societies which can additionally to claim for unrecoverable costs associated with preparing for the cancelled show.
$100,000 in operational support for Agricultural Shows Australia’s Rural ambassador program.
All agricultural shows that have cancelled their show in 2020 because of COVID-19 will be eligible and they will not have to compete for assistance.
Eligible reimbursement costs are expected to include: Bank fees, utilities, rates, insurance, fire alarms and equipment, cleaning supplies, telecommunications, IT system licencing costs, website costs, state/national show body affiliation fees and rent.
For more information on the agricultural show societies Fund, go to https://www.regional.gov.au/regional/programs/covid-19-relief-and-recovery-fund.aspx
An urgent fund needs to be made available for Field days that have suffered under the same stresses.