Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Fieldays is back and building better

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A return to familiar slot on calendar, with exciting new features.
The team spends a lot of time thinking about what people want to see at Fieldays, says New Zealand National Fieldays Society chief executive Peter Nation.
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The largest agricultural event in the southern hemisphere is back in its usual spot on the calendar and the one thing New Zealand National Fieldays Society chief executive Peter Nation loves to see is the new areas of the event come to life. 

“A lot of shoe leather goes into Fieldays,” Nation said.

“The team spends a lot of time thinking about what people want to see and hear. They work incredibly hard and put a great deal of time and effort into developing new hubs, areas and overall planning of the Fieldays.”

Fieldays is the ultimate launch platform for cutting-edge technology and innovation, and an annual pilgrimage for many who return year after year and have done so for 55 years.

Once again, exhibitor bookings are strong, which Nation said is a turnaround from the past few years when covid put a dampener on things.

“The economic headwinds are changing and the event is looking strong. It will only get better.”

Like so many other organisations and events, Fieldays has had a bit of a bumpy ride in the past couple of years. It was threatened by restrictions on mass gatherings early last year, and in response it changed the date from June to November.

Fieldays hosted a different audience last year as many farmers weren’t able to make it, but Nation said a lot of horticultural growers, who cannot normally come in June, attended. And he expects attendance this year to return to previous levels. 

“We expect all the farmers will be well and truly ready to get off farm and especially those from areas that have been affected by all the adverse weather events we have experienced,” he said.

“We believe they are probably ready for some time out off the farm. They have experienced frustration and anger and haven’t been in their normal frame of mind. 

“Hopefully they have dug themselves and are ready to connect and reconnect with like-minded farmers and exhibitors. Fieldays gives these people the opportunity to do that. They can get a deal and replace assets that may have been damaged.”

And there is plenty for them to see and do including the new Sustainability Hub, which has been four years in the making.

“Sustainability is hugely important to us,” Nation said.

“Fieldays has been focusing on sustainably for some time and we are really proud that this commitment includes building the internationally recognised ISO 20121 Sustainable Events Standards into its management procedures.”

The hub is a collaboration with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

“We’ve made a strategic decision to use the scale of Fieldays to help educate both visitors and exhibitors so that future generations will benefit from improved sustainability practices for New Zealand’s food and fibre sector.” 

The new hub will feature a select number of sustainability-focused organisations, including Toitū Envirocare, Wilderlab and RiverWatch.

“It’s a secret as to what exactly is in there,” Nation said.

“I can tell you that we will have an exhibit ourselves as Fieldays has its own story to tell.”

Nation said the hub will have a river and the EPA will be conducting live tests so people can see how it all works. 

Paula Knaap, general manager engagement at the EPA, said visitors will be able to explore sustainable farming research and science, urban and rural waste management, as well as water management and renewable energy.  

 “Embracing initiatives that protect and enhance the environment has a range of benefits, from longevity of land use through to resilience to changing climate conditions,” Knaap said. 

“We want to support farmers, growers and the consumer on their sustainability journey. By showcasing some of the initiatives underway in Aotearoa New Zealand, we can help everyone see that together we can overcome the enormity of the challenges, with innovation and collaboration.”  

Alongside the hub, the Fieldays Sustainability Trail, accessed via the official Fieldays App, will lead visitors to Fieldays exhibitors who are demonstrating sustainability practices, products and initiatives.  

All the old favourites are back, including the Innovations Centre showcasing the latest innovations in agriculture, backyard inventions and commercial improvements. These are always an integral part of Fieldays with thousands of visitors eager to view the latest rural advancements.

“There has been an upsurges of entries and we have received several international entries,” Nation said.

“We only held the innovations awards six months ago but there are lots of new innovations being developed and entered.”

Another popular hub is the Hauora Taiwhenua Health and Wellbeing Hub, which will see 200 health professionals working in the hub at various times and new exhibitors.

“The Health and Wellbeing hub is going from strength to strength and I believe it is because there is a gap in the market,” Nation said.

“Rural health is underfunded and distance may be a factor in farmers not going to see their local doctor. To be able to provide that service here is vital.

“We have had people send us letters and say ‘Thank you, you saved my life.’ There is huge pride and satisfaction that we can help people in this way.”

Also returning is the Opportunity Grows Here Careers Hub, which was created in partnership between Fieldays and the Ministry for Primary Industries. It is an engaging platform for attendees to learn about food and fibre career pathways and consider joining a thriving sector.

“We have 40 schools booked in from all over. In the past, we have had thousands of schoolkids go through, but it is not just about the kids.

“We get a lot of adults too who may have lost their job or are just looking for a change and new career path. There are plenty of opportunities in agriculture and this a really popular hub.”

Nation likes to walk around the site and watch people enjoying the exhibitions, hubs and all that Fieldays has to offer.

“I walk past the various hubs and they are buzzing with people talking to each other.

“That’s what gets the hair up on the back of my neck. It is exciting. Seeing it all come together and the sites all humming with activity is why we get out of bed.”