Ag show harder to justify

Following a series of Covid-induced disruptions, Fieldays 2022 was different - as predicted. By Glenys Christian.

In Business9 Minutes

Following a series of Covid-induced disruptions, Fieldays 2022 was different – as predicted. By Glenys Christian.

Fieldays 2022 was billed as the same, same but different. And it was on the first day, with the usual rain and mud. The difference with the change of timing was the lack of crowds, making for a strangely subdued atmosphere.

Some exhibitors said the rain gods had smiled as the wet weather meant farmers wouldn’t be able to get on with work on their farms. Others said exactly the opposite, and with a kinder weather forecast for the rest of the week farmers were just delaying visiting.

In the end about 75,000 passed through the gates over the four days, well down on the more than 132,000 who visited the last show. NZ National Fieldays Society chief executive Peter Nation said it expected a reduced attendance due to the timing, lower economic confidence levels and lingering supply chain issues, both as a result of Covid.

“Things are far from normal. The world has changed a bit.”

It polled a range of farmers asking for their second best time for holding the event, which resulted in a sway to horticulture, as it was the sector which found late November and early December most suitable. And there were indications of new visitors being attracted.

But David Silk, national sales manager for C B Norwood, said the problem is Fieldays moving away from being a trade show.

“It’s not agriculture focused and it’s trading on exhibitors’ fear of missing out on the exposure we all come here for.”

Not cheap for exhibitors

It was an enormous financial cost, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which had led to discussions about more effective ways of taking the company’s offering to the market. The South Island Field Days, Central Districts Field Days and Northland Field Days are all far more agriculturally focused, he believed.

“The number one priority of an importer or retailer is to showcase imported machinery.”

No decision has been made on returning next year – “it’s getting harder to justify”.

But there was an upside to the first day – “there are no tyre-kickers”.

On the nearby John Deere site a new addition, a sandpit where childrens’ spades could be used to try to dig up tokens for promotional hats or vouchers, was getting a good workout. At the Power Farming site the modus operandi was the same as always – “catching up with customers and selling metal”. But the feeling was echoed that the South Island Field Days were “more rural, less city”.

Gerard and Debbie Anselmi from Recharge, who have been at Fieldays for close to a quarter of a century selling their battery additive right outside the Pavilion, felt they needed to come as they could have lost their prime sales spot.

“We’re not talking to many farmers. It’s not like it used to be.”

Nation pointed to new partners, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Case IH, and said the event would never be an A& P show as, “animals are too hard”. Some farm machinery companies who didn’t attend simply had no stock to sell, others who did had no side-by-sides available due to shipping delays.

Other field days were based on “a couple of paddocks” compared with the Fieldays’ 16 kilometres of roading, complete with curbing and water supply. Site charges ranged from $5000 for mum and dad exhibitors with a three metre square site who stayed in a campervan and sold some product, right up to large companies paying up to seven figures. For this they might get a 0.5ha site to show off their wares, manned by 30 to 40 staff with all the associated accommodation and transport costs factored in.

Some long-term exhibitors, such as Federated Farmers, were connecting with their membership as well as showing their support for Fieldays. Terry Copeland, its chief executive, said even with many means of communication nothing beats personal interaction.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand was for the first time in the Careers Hub where 17 or 18 school groups were expected to visit. Olivia Weatherburn, its national extension programme manager, said it wasn’t spending a lot of money in showing the different opportunities for young people to work in agriculture, as it made sure it wasn’t replicating similar initiatives.

OSPRI was there to make sure farmers knew how to use its new MyOSPRI online animal tracing system, and talk through the details if necessary. Tom Youngs, based in Wellington, said with most of their work done over the phone his first Fieldays visit provided a great opportunity to connect with farmers personally.

AgFirst consultants were using another touch point with clients outside their regular six to eight-weekly onfarm visits. Fewer visitors were a bonus, allowing more in-depth discussion and less rush to move on to the next person.

Staffing down

Marty Orange, Tracmap’s lower North Island area manager, said he’d usually gather a year’s worth of leads to follow up at Fieldays. But after predictions of lower farmer numbers the company cut back on staff manning its site, “a good call”.

Another first-timer, Allan Crome, an immigration adviser for NZ Shores said Fieldays’ changed timing was fine as it just wanted to engage with employers and increase awareness of their responsibilities. It was too early to say whether it would return next year.

FarmGate, an early stage Innovation Awards finalist, was showing off its security system with Andrew Sing, its managing director, saying its aim was just to raise some farmer awareness. It planned to be back from June 14-17 next year in the Pavilion to take orders.

Taumata Arowai was also making its first foray to Mystery Creek with Neil Shaw, leader of its Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Coromandel Peninsula regional regulatory team. He said the new water services regulator was letting farmers know they would be the least affected by Three Waters legislation. They had until 2028 to comply with new standards for bore water supply. It already planned to have teams from other areas at the Kirwee and Dargaville field days next year.

Nigel Meads, Alltech’s innovation sales manager, said every exhibitor asked whether they needed to be at Fieldays as it was a big outlay. But the presence of the animal nutrition company reassured customers that everything was stable so it was the one event it felt it had to attend.

The changed timing had some big benefits – “I’ve actually seen the car park for the first time in 20 years rather than arriving at 5am, sleeping in the car until 7am and then leaving in the dark”.