State and county fairs are a major source of promotion for U.S. agriculture. With the many cancellations of fairs across the country, Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) urged House leadership on Wednesday to include strong support for state and county agricultural fairs in the next COVID-19 relief package.
“Agricultural producers in rural America represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, and with the average age of a farmer being 57 years old, it is imperative for us to engage and encourage young people to pursue agricultural careers. By cultivating a passion for agriculture in students and supporting beginning farmers and ranchers, fairs help build the future of agriculture. These exhibitions demonstrate to the public and the farming community, that we do not take for granted the work they do to feed us all,” the letter said.
Fairs Need Funding to Survive Loss of Revenue in 2020
According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), each year the operation of agricultural fairs results in $4.67 billion for the U.S. economy and supports thousands of jobs. About 2,000 fairs are held in North America each year, and large fairs can admit more than a million visitors over the course of a week or two.
“County and local fairs are vitally important to agriculture on the Central Coast, providing our producers and opportunity to market their crops and livestock, and fostering the next generation of farmers. They are an economic engine, as well as a gathering place, for our communities. Like many institutions, fairs have been impacted by COVID-19, and Congress must ensure their preservation by providing assistance in the next economic relief package,” Panetta said in a release.
Less than one-third of the states provide any type of funding support for county fairs, explained Marla Calico, IAFE president and CEO.
“Even those states providing some funds will now be faced with difficult decisions to sustain that funding when state revenues have been so dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Without supplemental aid, the future of some fairs and fairgrounds facilities are in question,” Calico said.
Dara Tobias, CEO and fair manager of the San Benito County Fair in California, said that out of their county population of approximately 60,000 people, they welcomed over 48,000 people to their annual events last year. Approximately 22,000 attended the county’s annual agriculture fair, and many more attended parties, Quinceañeras, horse shows, festivals, graduations, weddings, family reunions and other life celebrations.
Not only does this create jobs for photographers, supply vendors, food caterers, decorators and others, it also provides families and community members of all ages with an affordable place to explore, learn, rest, recreate and celebrate at the fairgrounds,” Tobias said.
“They are the cornerstone for many communities and vital for so many needs,” Tobias said.
Fair Cancellations Shatter Dreams for Many Youth
When state fairs began announcing their cancellations in late May, many youth exhibitors and livestock breeders shared their disappointment over the historic news.
“The cancellation of the Ohio State Fair was a surprising and devastating blow to the youth livestock program in our state,” said Jim McCoy of Bloomingburg, Ohio, who has been raising pigs and supporting the Ohio State Fair for 47 years. “Being a family project, the time, effort, dollars invested in livestock, and all it takes to raise them to completion just scratches the surface of all that is involved in a junior project.”
Alyssa Donich, 18, was devastated when the California State Fair canceled due to COVID-19.
“I never imagined in a million years this is how my senior year show career would be. I was looking forward to showing at state fair this year with my family and friends by my side,” Donich said.
In order to protect the future of opportunities like these, the Congressmen ask for the inclusion of relief measures for this “uniquely American industry.”
“In response to the financial distress the COVID-19 crisis has placed on America’s fairs, and given the importance they play in the promotion of and development of America’s Agribusiness, it is imperative that financially stressed fairs be provided a lifeline during these difficult times,” the letter said.