Fieldays has been unifying town and country communities for the past half century and still continues to push the envelope.
“Listen and lead,” that’s what has made National Agricultural Fieldays one of the country’s most iconic events for a remarkable 50 years, says National Fieldays Society Inc. CEO, Peter Nation.
“We have focused on what the industry needs, we travel extensively around the world to look at what is changing and trending, and we listen to our industry and our customers.”
Fieldays is a prime example of how one person’s idea, with the right backing and a continuous drive, can become the ultimate reality. It’s the brain child of, Waikato farmer and Nuffield Scholar, John Kneebone.
John’s scholarship allowed him to travel the world looking for new innovations, technologies and ideas in relation to farming.
After attending London’s Smithfield Show, John couldn’t help but notice the large numbers of people, from all over the Northern Hemisphere, who were attracted to what was on offer. Not only were they attending the show, but they were exploring the city in which it was hosted as a result.
John knew a similar event would work well in Hamilton and so pitched the idea to the then editor of the Waikato Times. His pitch was to create an event in which farmers could meet and view products, services and innovations in farm machinery – and in turn farmers would get a much-needed day off the farm.
A year on – and after extensive deliberations with the editor of the Waikato Times, the Hamilton Mayor, two federated farmers, an AgResearch representative, an A&P Show member and the vice chancellor of Waikato University, Sir Don Llewellyn, they settled on three main objectives: the promotion of agricultural research and innovations, unifying town and country communities and attracting significant events and exhibitions from NZ and overseas, thus creating the concept of Fieldays and developing the New Zealand National Fieldays Society.
The inaugural event was held in 1969 at Te Rapa Racecourse. The event only expected to see a few thousand people at best. No one was prepared for the onslaught that ensued.
More than 10,000 people made an appearance; the crowds were so great people began ditching their cars and jumping the fences to avoid the queues.
Sir Don Llewellyn, not having a bar of it, began rounding up the queue jumpers in his Range Rover and collected any unpaid gate fees.
Te Rapa Racecourse was pushed to its limits due to Fieldays’ immediate success, prompting the purchase of Mystery Creek in 1970 – the home of Fieldays and all associated events to this day.
The success continues
In comparison to 1969, it’s fair to say Fieldays has seen an astronomical hike in numbers across the board.
Last year’s event saw record numbers with 133,588 people through the gates over the four days, generating $538 million in sales revenue for New Zealand businesses and contributing $238 million to the country’s Gross Domestic Product overall, compared to, what would seem now as, a meagre 10,000 visitors and 80 exhibitions in its inaugural year.
Peter says he is extremely proud of the contribution Fieldays makes to the Waikato region and New Zealand economies.
It will be a challenge to beat last year’s efforts, but with celebrations already underway, the Society and the dedicated volunteers that make the events happen, are giving it a good shove.
Peter has been involved with the organisation for the past 20 years, stepping into the CEO role
His focus has been on bringing a greater customer focus to the business and its events, reducing costs, introducing new sponsors that can make a real difference to the industry and the organisation, and improvements to Mystery Creek “which our customers should all notice,” he says.
There is a ceaseless drive to better the previous year – and so far so good.
The 50th anniversary Fieldays’ events will focus on the ‘future of farming’ in a nod to the founders’ initial vision.
The celebrations were kicked off in Wellington at Parliament’s Grand Hall, a testament to what Fieldays has done for the nation.
“Parliament is the powerhouse of New Zealand, and the opportunity to have our 50th anniversary launch event there indicates the significance of Fieldays to the country,” said Peter at the time. “Fieldays is important to New Zealand’s primary industries. For 50 years we’ve been bringing urban and rural communities together and working to advance agriculture through technology.”
An anniversary sculpture which was unveiled in recognition of a proud 50 years, produced by artist Chersie Thompson, represents the coil of copper wire that was used as not only a phone line at the inaugural event, but as collateral upon the purchase of Mystery Creek.
“The copper in the sculpture is very important” said Peter at the unveiling “It’ not only a valued commodity, but it signifies communication and the transfer of information, and relationships and collaboration. It also speaks to that No. 8 wire mentality, that Kiwi way of just getting it done.”
A history book of Fieldays will also be released at the end of the year.
Inspiring the next generation
Keeping with the theme of ‘the future of farming’ one must accept that the rural sector is increasingly diverse.
What was previously known as a ‘man’s job’ has opened itself to many talented women.
In acknowledgement of this, one of Fieldays’ most popular competitions has added a new element and as such has a new name. Previously dubbed Fieldays’ Rural Bachelor, which saw a group of single guys competing for the ‘golden gumboot’ among other prizes, is about to be brought to into the 21st century, allowing women to compete.
The format of the competition will remain the same but the old name had to go. Competitors will now compete for the title of Fieldays’ Rural Catch.
The competition will keep its element of match- making, but ultimately it’s a test of rural skill and knowledge of agribusiness, making them the ultimate catch for not only a love interest, but for potential employers and business partners.
“Part of changing the Rural Bachelor competition is us acknowledging that times have changed, and it’s and contribution of rural women,” Peter says.
“This year four women will compete against four men in the Fieldays Rural Catch. When we talk about ‘the future of farming’, equality and representation is a par t of that.”
Finding the rural catch of the year isn’t the only way Fieldays is seeking out young talent. The NZ National Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship, established in 2012 by the National Fieldays Society, is awarded to students at The University of Waikato whose research is seen to have a meaningful outcome for the agricultural industry.
Alongside that is the Doug Baldwin Event Management Scholarship which was established in 2016. This scholarship is awarded yearly to a Wintec student in their third year of study who demonstrates academic excellence and flair in event management.
The society has a long-standing commitment to St Paul’s Collegiate School – Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Science and Business and have worked to introduce Agribusiness NCEA achievement standards in New Zealand schools.
Furthermore, the Fieldays’ careers and education hub is getting the younger ones involved. The exhibitions are interactive, inspiring and offer plenty of opportunities for apprenticeships, scholarships and cadetships.
A day for the masses
It sounds cliché but there really is something for everyone at Fieldays – even the city slickers.
The four-day event includes entertainment such as the widely popular Tractor Pull, the excavator competition and logging (to name but a few) all showcasing a range of skill and expertise.
There’s delicious food and a kitchen theatre for the foodies – nutrition and food will be another big focus at this year’s event — and the recently added health hub will be making another appearance.
Last year the health hub unexpectedly detected 10 skin cancers, illustrating the importance
to those living rurally, of getting regular health checks. For the kids and young adults; the careers and education hub demonstrates the vast rage of opportunities available in the primary sector and to top it all off, who could forget the massive savings on farm machinery, equipment and vehicles.
In keeping with the times and paving the way for future generations stepping up to the plate, sustainability has become an increased feature.
Peter told the NZ Herald that as world leaders in agribusiness events, Fieldays has a responsibility to be leading in event sustainability.
Last years’ event saw nearly 50 percent of the events waste being diverted from landfill and being recycled and reused, and 11,000 people travelled to Fieldays using public transport.
In today’s disposable world that is an impressive feat and is something they’re continuously looking to improve.
The variety of technology and innovation displayed at Fieldays is what continues to attract the masses. Through extensive industry research and listening to the needs of the target market, it’s no surprise Fieldays has stood the test of time.
Though 50 years is an impressive milestone, Peter is showing no sign of putting on the breaks, there is still more to achieve he says.
“We will keep evolving and meeting market and world trends, continue to improve the customer experience and may even bring in more primary sector industries,” even looking to grow its international presence.
Fieldays is the glue our country needs to remind us that even though our society is becoming increasingly urbanised, farming and the rural community remains an integral part of who we are.
Fifty years on and still going strong, Fieldays will continue to be that reminder – unifying rural and urban communities.
Fieldays 2018 is on from Wednesday, 13 June to Saturday, 16 June, 2018. Gates open daily on Wednesday to Friday from 8am to 5pm, and Saturday from 8am to 4pm.
Fieldays is held at Mystery Creek, 125 Mystery Creek Road, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Mystery Creek is a convenient 15 minutes from Hamilton’s CBD, two minutes from Hamilton
Airport, 17 minutes or 15.5km to the Novotel in Hamilton city, Te Awamutu and Cambridge, and just over 1.5 hours from Auckland, Tauranga and Rotorua.
Online tickets are available at: www.fieldays.co.nz.
By Natalia Rietveld