Concerns about COVID-19 led most states to cancel their fairs, but kids in some states will still receive an opportunity to show their livestock.
The organizers of state fairs and other agricultural events faced difficult decisions on how to avoid COVID-19 or reduce the spread of the new coronavirus.
State fairs around the country are being canceled, and many states are doing away with the traditional fair experience for 2020.
On Monday, the Kansas State Fair Board announced it had reconsidered its original plan, which it announced June 30, to hold the fair. After several big vendors pulled out for this year, the board voted to cancel the Kansas fair, which was schedule for September. However, some livestock events will still take place over three weekends.
Other states have also come up with clever solutions to host a livestock show, despite their fairs being canceled.
For Jerry Costello, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, it’s about more than just offering a chance for kids to show off their hard work.
“In agriculture, if we don’t take the time to cultivate our youth, we’re all in trouble. It’s important to make sure they have this opportunity in a situation that none of us have gone through before,” Costello said.
Debbie Nistler, Iowa state 4-H program leader, said Iowa youths deserve a chance to show their livestock, despite the challenges of planning this show.
“The easier solution would have been to just close everything and not have anything, which would have been completely understandable,” Nistler said. “These youth have spent all year learning how to take care of their animals, and this is a chance for them to show us what they’ve learned. They can take the feedback we will give them and hopefully apply it to their project next year.”
The following are some plans from various states.
Illinois has two state fairs, one in Du Quoin and the other in Springfield. Both were canceled due to an executive order given by the state’s governor, but there is still hope.
“We are working with Gov. Pritzker to host a junior livestock expo in Springfield, which will give youth, ages 8 to 21, an opportunity to show the animals that they have worked so hard to prepare,” said Costello. “We are also planning a junior horse show in Du Quoin.”
Like many other states, Illinois is implementing a “show and go” technique for their livestock and horse exhibitions. Exhibitors and their animals will have a short time to arrive, prepare for the show and promptly leave the premises once their show is concluded. To help encourage this, the Illinois livestock and horse shows will be condensed into two weekends each.
On Sept. 11-13 in Springfield, they’ll do beef, dairy goats, pygmy goats, sheep, rabbits and poultry. On Sept. 18-20, they’ll do swine, dairy cattle and market goats, Costello said.
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As for the horse show in Du Quoin, Aug. 29-30 will consist of English showing, followed by western showing on Sept. 5-6.
The Department of Agriculture is working closely with local and state health departments in each location to ensure the health and safety of the exhibitors.
“We are focusing on things like mask wearing, social distancing and making sure that common areas are disinfected,” Costello said. “We are adapting with the help of the health departments to make this experience safe, while still allowing youth in our state to exhibit their animals.”
Most states, including Illinois, have a premium sale for the highest-placing animals in each species. Donors bid on these animals to help support the youths who raised them. This is a huge source of money for next year’s show animals for many kids. Unfortunately, many states can’t risk the large crowds that these sales normally attract.
“We will not be having the sale of champions this year. Our show will be a jackpot scenario, where entry fees will be dispersed among the winners,” Costello said. “We are working with some groups that are interested in doing sponsorships to help with prize money.”
All the static exhibits, such as art and quilting, will be held virtually this year for Illinois.
“We worked with Illinois 4-H and Extension to make this the best possible experience for these kids. Many of these projects are things they worked on all year,” Costello said.
The Iowa State Fair is also canceled but is taking a unique approach to the livestock exhibition for 4-H and FFA members.
“For the first three weekends in August, we will spread out the shows across the fairgrounds,” explained Nistler. “This will allow us to social distance and be as safe as we can while having these livestock shows.”
The Iowa State Fair will limit the number of people allowed on the fairgrounds. Each exhibitor will be allowed to bring two parents.
“There will be very few people on the premises outside of the immediate families. This will help us limit the number of people we have in the stands,” Nistler said.
Health practices will go beyond the general crowd and spectators: 4-H and FFA youths will be required to follow these procedures as they show their animals in the ring.
“We will set up the ring to allow them to social distance. We are also strongly encouraging exhibitors to wear masks while they are in the show ring,” Nistler said. “Our judges and staff will have on masks and/or face shields.”
The swine show will be more difficult to practice social distancing, due to the nature of how the pigs are handled.
“(The swine showmen) will have to wear a mask. There’s no way around that,” Nistler said. “We are also talking about limiting the number of pigs in the ring at a time.”
The premium sale for this year was canceled in order to protect the safety of exhibitors and their families, added Nistler. Other things like food judging have also been canceled.
“Food judging has a lot of risk involved, and there is no way to evaluate those types of entries well without a face-to-face interaction. We have decided to forego those options for this year,” Nistler said.
Other exhibits will still be judged accordingly, even if they can’t be displayed to the public.
“It’s actually going to move to an online format,” Nistler said. “(The exhibitors) will upload their photos to be judged, and they will receive a ribbon for their placing.”
The Ohio State Fair will not offer any type of fair activities at the state level, including the livestock show. This decision was not made lightly, considering the governor has strong ties to 4-H in his state.
“Gov. Mike DeWine and the first lady are 4-H grandparents themselves, so 4-H and FFA youth are high in their priorities,” said Kirk Bloir, Ohio State 4-H leader. “They were committed to helping these kids have a positive experience in being able to showcase their work.”
While the state fair isn’t going forward, many local and county fairs are pushing ahead. Several counties received a large sum of money to help with the safety guidelines needed to implement a safe livestock show.
“Our speaker of the house, speaker of the senate and governor sent communication to the county agricultural societies supporting their desire to offer a junior livestock show. Knowing that other aspects of the fair couldn’t take place, which normally fund the junior livestock show, they looked at things like the CARES Act for funding for these counties that wanted to offer a livestock expo,” Bloir said.
Each county that plans to host a livestock show will receive $50,000 to purchase COVID-19 supplies. This includes hand sanitizing stations, face masks and signage.
A guidance document was released by Gov. Dewine’s administration recommending how county and independent fairs should implement various activities. The biggest rule concerns the large crowds that a fair normally attracts.
“Fair boards and managers should conduct the fair in a manner that discourages the large gathering of people on the midway or on other parts of the fair grounds. Where possible, the fair should provide one-way traffic in buildings or other areas, where doing so will help people maintain social distancing,” the document states.
Livestock competitors will be socially distanced at least 6 feet apart, while judges are required to wear masks during the close examination of animals. Class sizes will also be reduced to help with the social distance between exhibitors.
“They will split classes into multiple heats to help reduce the number of animals in the show ring at the same time,” Bloir said. “Usually, many of our counties allow multiple animals per exhibitor to be shown, but they are thinking about limiting that to one animal per species per exhibitor.”
Many of the counties will allow the general population to enter the fairgrounds to watch the livestock shows, so several will also include concession stands to be opened. The state guidance document includes rules for concession stands as well: “These include 6-foot spacing marks for those in line, no self-serve areas, condiments placed on food by server or in self-contained packets, and if there is a seating area, the tables/benches must be 6 feet apart to assure distance between parties.”
For more on other state fairs and agriculture events that have been canceled, see here.