It’s the end of an era as the retirement of former chairman and Yerong Creek farmer Ross Edwards is announced after a 55-year involvement with the Henty MFD
The position of chairman at the Henty Machinery Field days doesn’t come up that often.
For Ross Edwards it had been a 41-year progression up the ladder after starting as a volunteer car park attendant at the 1966 field days.
It wasn’t until 21 March 1988 that Ross was appointed as a board director of the co-operative, putting him within reach of the top job.
Then after putting in almost another 20 years, in 2007 the number of field day directors was reduced from 12 to seven in, signalling the start of a new succession plan.
Ross Edwards stepped into the chairman’s role that year following the retirement of Cookardinia farmer Colin Wood after he had held the position for the past 33 years.
Ross Edwards wrote in his chairman’s welcome message: “One of our key objectives is to maintain the broad community involvement that has contributed to Henty’s success over many years’’.
“For most of us, the field days are not a job, but a genuine interest – our hearts are in it,’’ he said.
The HMFD brand was now powerful and far-reaching – the field day song had become one of rural Australia’s most recognisable TV advertising jingles. Market research indicated a staggering four out of every five farmers in southern NSW were able to sing the chorus.
Still embroiled in drought, Henty 2008 welcomed an Austrade sponsored visit by a North American trade delegation and was named as the host of the 2009 biannual conference of the Association of Agricultural Field Days of Australasia.
With water efficiency and management high on every farmer’s agenda, Henty formed a partnership with the Water4Food Australia program in 2009.
The Machine of the Year Award even featured a desalination machine, reflecting the drive to conserve fresh water reserves.
The global financial crisis continued to bite so Henty banked on the federal government’s 50 per cent investment allowance designed to assist primary producers in bringing forward machinery buying decisions.
Wider community issues such as drugs and alcohol, hearing loss, glaucoma, foster carers, retirement and Angel Flight now headlined on the Country Lifestyle program.
2010 marked a year of achievement for the Henty Machinery Field Days Co-operative board.
The field days were graced with a visit from Governor General Quentin Bryce and the board signed a formal agreement with Charles Sturt University to create research programs.
On the downside, Henty’s signature jingle “Going to the Henty field days’’ was ditched in favour of a modern song written by Albury singer and songwriter Paul Gibbs.
Out on the site, the new Farm Gate Produce Market was introduced to showcase farmers value adding to their own fresh, regional produce.
The phone and media ran hot with a public backlash over the loss of the famous Henty jingle.
Chairman Ross Edwards was quoted as saying people regarded the jingle as a sacred song, while the press described it as “Riverina’s version of Waltzing Matilda’’.
Negotiations with the copyright owner proved fruitful and the jingle was restored.
The 2012 field days built on the jingle’s popularity with it being a consistent promotional theme.
Balancing the mix between the field day’s core business of machinery and broader interests, the program featured MasterChef celebrities, the inaugural Telstra Road to Discovery talent show and Meat and Livestock Australia’s Lambassador Sam Kekovich.
As Ross continued to steer the ship, site numbers jumped 50 per cent on the previous year to 1200 with more than 800 exhibitors and a record crowd of 60,000 people soaking up the atmosphere.
While the field days celebrated 50 years in 2013, Ross said the team would not be resting on its laurels but be taking the event forward for the next 50 years by showcasing new technology and keeping the field days at the cutting edge in the nation.
The skills shortage in agriculture rang alarm bells for Ross and he regularly visited the theme in his annual chairman’s messages.
“It is great to see the level of students entering university to study agricultural related courses has increased in recent years. There is certainly a need to recruit, maintain and develop staff for farms, and service and supply firms in the production chain,” he said in 2015.
In 2016, Ross oversaw a long held dream – the construction of the permanent Country Lifestyle Pavilion. This building will not only serve the field days but other events during the year.
2018 marked the last year Ross would deliver his chairman’s message from The Stump.
He was pleased to see the strength of HMFD evident at the annual general meeting when over 50 members attended, the majority being aged from 20 to 35.
“Most importantly, we promote HMFD not only as an event for the exhibitors to showcase to potential buyers, but as an annual pilgrimage for family and friends to catch up, or have a few days away from the farm,” he said.
“Forty years ago, the field days were being promoted as the agricultural supermarket to 14,000 rural properties.
“Today, it is a first class exhibition venue hosting the nation’s biggest single agricultural and outdoor event, and drawing 60,000 national and international visitors.”
Ross handed over the chairman’s reins to Nigel Scheetz in 2018 but continued on the Board as a director until stepping down at the annual general meeting in 2021.
In receiving a certificate of appreciation from the HMFD board and staff, Ross paid tribute to the event’s founding fathers Milton Taylor and Ernie Howard.
“This field day has been great not only for Henty but for the whole of southern NSW.
“I’ve always treated everyone the same, whether they are the youngest kid through the gate or the oldest fellow who has been involved.
“The field days will survive – we will go through some tough times but what is in our favour at the moment is the high commodity prices.”
HMFD chief executive officer Belinda Anderson paid tribute to Ross’s long contribution to what has grown into one of the nation’s most prominent agricultural events.
Mrs Anderson said the impact Ross had on the field days and wider community simply could not be measured.
She was initially encouraged by Ross to take on a new career with the field days in 2011.
“The passion that Ross has had for this organisation along with agriculture is something we should all embody,” she said.
“If we did, who knows how great this country could be? Ross has always had a soft spot for the younger members making sure they were comfortable and welcome among their peers.
“This has made certain that these members have a safe and supportive environment to begin their involvement at HMFD.”
The regular Henty Machinery field days exhibition for 2021 has been postponed from its September time slot, due to COVID-19, and is anticipated to be run instead from March 15 to 17 2022.
Exhibitors and patrons can contact the field days team direct, call on tel: 02 6929 3305, or email email@example.com