Protecting state fairs and rodeos from permanent shutdowns

COVID-19 has negatively impacted agricultural fairs and rodeos. A new bill aims to protect these events before they become extinct.

Amanda Radke

August 24, 2020

4 Min Read
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We are in the final countdown for preparing for the South Dakota State Fair, which will be held over Labor Day weekend. We are taking a pair of Limousin bulls to the show, and as tradition, our family will camp, eat too much fair food and enjoy the camaraderie of our agricultural peers over the five-day event.

We are incredibly lucky that Governor Kristi Noem has respected the Constitution and has allowed the people of South Dakota to remain free to worship, free to work and free to gather to support small businesses, the tourism industry and the wonderful events we hold dear in this beautiful rural state.

Perhaps you’ve heard about some of our gatherings in the mainstream media this summer. Predications about “super spreader” events like the fireworks show with President Trump at Mount Rushmore, the Sturgis Rally, a Professional Bull Riders event and car racing at Huset’s Speedway.

While I’m cognizant of the risks of COVID-19 and am mindful of the terrible loss of life to those who have succumbed to this novel virus, I’m also grateful that the incredible economic losses that has impacted so many working families in other parts of the country hasn’t hit us as hard in South Dakota.

I guess that’s the benefit of living in a place where cows outnumber people four to one. And that brings me back to the State Fair. As producers prepare to exhibit livestock at our annual event, I’m also saddened by the fact that many 4-H and FFA youth won’t have this same opportunity in other parts of the country this year.

Related:PETA at Iowa State Fair; PLUS: Will meat substitutes finally go mainstream?

Events have either been canceled, severely restricted or moved to virtual events. That’s just not the same as having a fair that brings people together to celebrate food, fun, freedom and family adventures.

In early August, U.S. Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Billy Long (R-MO) introduced H.R. 7883, the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act. The bill aims to help preserve the tradition of agricultural fairs and offset the financial losses these events have experienced due to COVID-19.

H.R. 7883 would grant $500 million in funding for agricultural fairs through state departments of agriculture to help keep them running and preserve them for the future. The grants would be overseen by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

In an interview with New Territory Media, Kady Porterfield, Kittitas County Fair event center director said, “While having a virtual fair is better than nothing at all, it still doesn’t have the same affect that our traditional fair has on the youth, their families, and our community. The educational opportunities are clouded in a virtual situation and part of the experience is being there in the moment.

Related:3 reads for parents & kids during the state fair season

“A virtual show can’t replace or carry the full value of our true Kittitas County Fair. Not being able to hold our traditional fair and rodeo impacts even more including loss of temporary jobs and a huge decline in the economic impact it typically generates for the community businesses each year,” she said.

“The agricultural fairs across the United States serve vital community purposes. Besides the social and cultural impact, fairs provide the future leaders of this country — the 4-H and FFA members — with vital leadership skills development.

“Additionally, the economic impact to each community is significant. In the majority of communities, the fairgrounds serves as critical infrastructure in times of need – fire camps, hurricane and tornado shelters for humans and animals — and never more evident than now with many serving as COVID-19 testing sites, temporary hospitals, quarantine shelters, food distribution sites, and temporary polling places.”

The article reports that according to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), “Each year the operation of agricultural fairs results in $4.67 billion for the U.S. economy and supports thousands of jobs. About 2,000 fairs are held in North America each year, and large fairs can admit more than a million visitors over the course of a week or two.

“Fairs, like so many other industries in the U.S., have suffered tremendous financial losses as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. IAFE estimates a loss of gross revenue exceeding $3.7 billion to fair organizations so far this year based upon the cancellation of facility events and their annual fair.”

County and state fairs are traditionally a great place to make memories together as a family while learning more about things like livestock, horticulture, farming, ranching and where our food comes from. It’s a great place for agribusinesses to promote their products and services, and the list of benefits goes on and on.

This bill is notable when we consider that in my neighboring state of Minnesota, where the shutdowns have been much more strict, a rodeo owner is being sued by the Minnesota Attorney General for violating the COVID-19 order.

Read all about this ongoing story by clicking here.

With many of these agricultural events being cancelled, one has to wonder — is the intent to shut them down, not just for a season, but forever? We must work to ensure our agricultural traditions are viable and remain intact now and in the future.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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