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Competition and catch-ups on ice…

North Canterbury’s agricultural sector is still adjusting to the news that one of their most significant annual get togethers won’t go ahead this year.

The New Zealand Agricultural Show – run by the Canterbury A&P Association –

was one of the last iconic events to surrender to Covid-19 last week. It’s the first time since World War II officials have had to stand down.

Scheduled to run from November 11-13, the Show welcomes 100,000 annual visitors. It includes 2500 individual competitions, and has shouldered the broader responsibility of binding its urban and country visitors together for 150 years.  

 

Lifetime of memories and accolades

Former Canterbury A&P Show Association President Ian Stevenson has a lifetime of memories, and he’s won more accolades than most at the show he grew up with.

He said North Canterbury farmers struggle to get time away from their farms, and the decision to put the show on ice – while understandable – had undoubtedly been a blow to country communities.

“Most of our rural North Canterbury community do go,” Ian said. “Considering November is a busy time on-farm, whether you are dairying or in another type of farming, people still make the effort to attend for at least one day.

“It’s a tradition where we catch up with our friends that we don’t see that often. For the young people who might be two years out of Lincoln, they turn it into a reunion.

“And, the next generation on from that go to catch up with their mates who often farm quite a distance from one another. It’s an important week for us all, and we all make the time to be there.”

 

You’d have to be a gambler

Ian, who is a director on the Canterbury A&P Association’s board, said there was little choice but to make an early decision.

“If you were a gambler – and, a big gambler – you’d go on, but outside of the risk of the government having to revert to a Level 3 or 4 [if there was a fresh Covid-19 outbreak], a lot of people are now really worried about mixing with other people,” he said.

“And, I think it will take some time for them to become relaxed about mingling closely with others.

“They’ve washed their hands that many times now – if they touch an animal at the show – they’ll probably have to wash their hands another 20 times.”

 

Marketing toll

The former Fernside resident and his wife, Trish, now farm 920ha, The Gums, at Cheviot in partnership with one of their sons, Mark, and wife Joanne.

Ian said they had planned to show up to 25 sheep, and he was also preparing his team for the Show’s dog trial competition. Last year in a field of around 140-head, two of his heading dogs finished second and third in the run-off final. Ian had qualified to compete in the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trials at Greenvale in mid-May, which has also now been cancelled.

The Gums runs polled Merino, Halfbred, and Dorset Down sheep, and around 270 trading beef cattle. It is the home of New Zealand’s oldest current Merino stud, and its 19-micron Merino fleeces are destined for Icebreaker.

The Gums will host its on-farm ram sale on December 3. The Stevenson family had hoped to finish their marketing campaign off with a potentially successful show in November. Ian says they will now re-focus on their online in-house marketing.

 

Stronger than ever

Ian is confident the Show will return, stronger than ever in 2021.

“It’s a good opportunity to review it and see if it is the best it can be. We have Zoom meetings going on at the moment asking, ‘What do we need to improve, what do we need to delete, and what do we need to bring in new’. I’m sure it will evolve.”

The Show’s event director Geoff Bone confirmed to TVNZ1’s Breakfast show last week that the decision meant a $500,000 loss, because they had already invested in six months of preparation. He did not rule out some lateral thinking from their committees.

“We are empowering the committees to run competitor-only events, as and when we are able to, at a later date,” Mr Bone said. “We see the ‘no contact’ events such as the Heartland Bank Young Auctioneers’ competition, and the Mint Lamb Competition can certainly be innovated and still run this year, in a way that meets guidelines and keeps our communities protected.”

 

Dairy double whammy

For the dairy exhibitors who had not shown for the last two years because of New Zealand’s outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis)*, it has been another blow to their marketing plans.

New Zealand’s Government and farming sectors decided in 2018 to attempt to eradicate M.bovis. It led to the widespread slaughter of cattle, who had tested positive. In much the same way as Covid-19, having cattle from different properties gathered in close proximity to each other at the show, was acknowledged as a risk for cross contamination. Not only had it been a management challenge for officials, some dairy exhibitors had deemed the risk to their businesses was too high, and had chosen not to show.

Several hoped to return this November.

 

“Show saviours”

A charity has been established to help rebuild the show’s coffers for 2021. For more information, or to donate, please visit theshow.co.nz

*M. bovis is a pathogen that causes respiratory disease, otitis media (middle ear disease), arthritis, mastitis and a variety of other diseases in cattle worldwide.

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