“The world’s changed,” Beeston offered in explanation.
He has many reasons for what appears to be the end of a 43-year run, but an over-riding theme is people’s ready access to information, including those chatty emails from Sir Henry van der Heyden.
Add to this the consolidated, increasingly corporatised structure of the New Zealand dairy industry, not to mention the financial risk in people making late or erratic choices about whether to show up.
Beeston, the chairman of the NZ Large Herds Association, recalled one year Landcorp indicated it would send 23 managers to the conference before cancelling in the face of a downturn.
Running Large Herds can cost $300,000-$350,000 depending on the number of bums on seats.
“I mean, venues now are $65,000 (or more). And then you start putting tech and all the rest in and you’re up to $100,000.”
The next concern would be space for sponsors, complimentary tickets and speakers. If that wasn’t stressful enough, few people now confirm flights and the like more than a week or two in advance.
“And so the world has actually changed and I’m not quite sure where we go. We’re going to have another executive meeting in February to get some feedback from the letter I sent out, but everybody can understand where it is.”
Potentially from next month’s meeting there’s enough impetus for proposed dates and venue for the next conference in 2014. This group of keen, dedicated people would also be charged with keeping the support of current and new sponsors.
Meantime, Beeston can’t help thinking people work harder and faster than they did 20 years ago – a time when attending Large Herds might have been part of a holiday.
Farmers also seemed happy now to pay for personalised information rather than take a No.8-wire approach, he said.
“We were 20,000 dairy farmers looking to do better. Now we’ve got to the point where there’s a conversion done right next to me from a sheep farmer, all done by a consultant.”
This shift doesn’t mean all dairy events are on shaky ground, he says.
Beeston was founding chairman of the South Island Dairy Event, which farmers like him saw a need for as northerners like himself ventured into virgin pasture.
A key to SIDE’s success was a decision to restrict organisers to three years on the committee in order to keep the content fresh. It was also fortunate that every year the industry has had 80 to 100 new farms, typically employing five or six new people. So there was always a thirst for insights into better dairying.
And with the subsequent addition of Business SIDE you have two groups of paying customer: the farmers in their 20s or early 30s; and the established farm owner, manager or partner.
Alternating the venue between Christchurch and Invercargill also provides a ready-made reason for the younger crew to explore other parts of the dairy map.
On another front, Women in Dairying have also found a successful niche on the farming conference circuit, Beeston believes, although he is frustrated that a near-clash of dates deterred some women from attending Large Herds.
“It’s sexy, it’s new, and it targeted a lot of people in catering for the young farm lady, whether she’s 20 or 50. That was filling a niche that was there but again it’s limited.
“What’s happened with our conference is they picked March when we were in March, so if wives went two weeks ago to Women in Dairying they’re not going to come to come to Large Herds.”
His experience is that for every time an attempt is made to create a new event, there are no more people out there to make it pay and the only way ahead is to attack somebody else’s market.
However, ultimately Beeston feels farming has become more connected and faster, to the point where people have shunned the Large Herds concept.
Related story: Declining attendance causes concern