After celebrating its 70th year last month, it looks like the South Island Agricultural Field Days (SIAFD) has hit its heights - with most exhibitors spoken to considering it to now be the 'best' field day of any sort in the country.
Organising committee chair Michaela McLeod says the core focus of the event has always been machinery demonstrations and the area allowed for them has been expanded this year.
“I feel this is quite a unique function of our field days over others across the country. You can see everything working and operating,” she told Rural News.
The biennial event takes place at the SIAFD’s dedicated site, near Kirwee, on March 24, 25 and 26.
A big innovation this year is a new marketing push, involving a rural mail drop including a map of the site, which the committee hopes will persuade more people that it’s a great day or two out.
“In a normal year we might have around 30,000 public come and I’m expecting a bit more simply because we’re doing much wider marketing,” says McLeod.
“We are sending out our programme to rural delivery mailboxes with the aim of getting the map out to people ahead of the event so that they can plan where they need to go.”
McLeod says the event is so big now that you can get around it in a day, but “it’s a lot of walking”.
“Best if you can come for two days and do it at a slower pace, but if you know you need to go somewhere you can plan your route by getting that programme in the mailbox, a fortnight beforehand.”
Other innovations – again with a view to making the site more visitor-friendly – are improved toilet facilities and more seating.
Also new for this year is the Country Women Competition, a series of rural-themed challenges pitting entrants against each other and the clock.
McLeod, who runs an independent agronomy research business, near Lincoln with her husband Ben, has been on the SIAFD committee since 2010.
Having worked her way up through various roles she says she jumped at the chance to take on the chair.
McLeod is the first woman to do so, but she downplays any significance to that.
“I think any woman would be quite competent to take on the role on.”
Meanwhile, McLeod says the Covid pandemic hasn’t affected demand from stall holders – although she has heard that some machinery vendors are having trouble getting new machines shipped into the country.
With over 500 display sites, the show is sold out and is running a waiting list, she says.
“So, we have more sites than we’ve ever had before.”
McLeod says she has been pleasantly surprised by the demand.
“I had thought after the lockdown we might be looking at running at 75% of normal.”
However, Covid travel restrictions have discouraged any overseas exhibitors.
“We just don’t give them enough credit.”
While there have been a few in previous years, McLeod says just one had shown an interest this year, but it had to pull out.
She concedes that a serious Covid outbreak could still put a spanner in the works.
“We can only operate in Level 1 and we will comply with all of the regulations of Level 1,” McLeod told Rural News.
“We will have more hand-washing facilities around to accommodate for people. I think people are used to washing their hands more often now.”
The committee is determined to postpone rather than cancel, and postpone again if need be, if alert levels go to 2 or beyond.
“We can’t really run getting too close to winter, because of the weather problems that we would run into, but we’re very committed to making it happen,” she explains.
McLeod says spending in the planning phase has been minimal “just in case we do have to refund everyone.” “I just feel like the whole agricultural industry is really wanting the event to go ahead,” she adds. “Farmers need to be celebrated and recognised for the hard work they have done during lockdown and over the last year.