No mystery to success

To commemorate 50 years of Fieldays, NZ National Fieldays Society Inc. CEO, Peter Nation reflects on the Society's journey.

What began at Te Rapa Racecourse in 1969 as a small event budgeted with under 100 exhibitors and a mere 3,000 visitors has now grown to a world class event.

The founding objectives back 50 years ago remain true today – advancing agriculture and bringing town and country together.

As a not for profit Society with charitable status the NZ National Fieldays Society Inc. that own the Fieldays event are immensely proud of what has been achieved. As the largest event of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, Fieldays now ranks as a world class event attracting countries from all over the globe along with many international exhibitors.

The event's growth has resulted from a clear focus on innovation and technology along with education and showcasing topical issues and opportunities. Its success is a reflection of the primary industry it represents and the support it has received from the many exhibitors and visitors it attracts annually. Growth has been rapid, driven off the back of staying relevant to the industry and delivering what its customers want to see and hear.

The support by exhibitors has been enduring with many supporting the event from day one. Furthermore, the visitors that come back year after year, wanting to see what is next, what is new and wanting to see the topics of the day.

The primary industry in New Zealand is growing fast, driven by rapid change in technology, the way we farm and what we farm. Challenges of our rural communities'ongoing sustainability together with the social licence to operate, are just a few challenges that the primary industry face. But it is fair to say that every year there have been challenges to the sector and it is how we discuss, showcase and deliver on how we deal with the issues that makes the difference. We all appreciate the importance of the primary industry to the New Zealand economy and our dependence on primary exports. Fieldays continues to be the cornerstone for continued promotion, innovation and most importantly offers a unique ecosystem of all things rural.

The Fieldays event is politically neutral and offers an ideal environment for debate, challenge and a platform for local and central government to visit, support and speak about the primary industry and the supporting services like health, careers and the innovation and business growth opportunities.

Given the reputation and recognition of the Fieldays event on the world stage the attraction of International Government agencies and agriculturally related trade missions have become a regular feature. The event attracts dignitaries from around the world, as it did back in 1970 with the visit by the Queen and her family.

Many a long lasting and enduring friendship or business relationship have been created at Fieldays. These relationships have resulted in new opportunities, growth or export business through distribution. We should not underestimate the health and wellbeing advantages of attending Fieldays, time off farm, making connections, looking at new technologies and networking are all good for the soul.

From those early beginnings and humble ideas, Fieldays has delivered so much to so many. We can all be grateful to those few pioneers who had an idea which has grown to deliver huge financial benefits to the New Zealand economy and assisted in maintaining New Zealand primary industry momentum.

What Fieldays means to volunteers

Frank Sargent is celebrating a milestone of his own next month – it will be his 25th year volunteering for the National Fieldays.

Frank first put his hand up in 1993, simply because a friend asked him to come along to help out. His first task was being the ‘lollipop man’ and managing traffic at a busy corner. Since then he has covered almost every corner of the Mystery Creek site.

“I think I’ve done a bit of everything since then. I’ve become chairman of various groups and events committees and ran the Bachelor event for a couple of years,” he says.

“Basically, the volunteers have just become a family, a group of people who enjoy the camaraderie. In the early days we did a lot of setting up and all worked on just about everything.”

Frank believes the key to the success of Fieldays has been staying true to what the initial events were all about - town and country coming together.

“That was so important, to make sure you didn’t lose that agricultural event side of things. We’ve never lost sight of that and of course we’ve got more innovative,” he says.

“I think we have kept moving, kept changing and did not sit back on our laurels – that’s a royal we, by the way. Everybody that got involved has watched it become a bigger event and it has got more exciting.”

Frank says watching the changes in technology and innovation has signified changes to the event itself, as interest from overseas in Fieldays continues to grow.

“It’s a place to do business, whether you are an importer or exporter from overseas. We have the biggest agricultural event in the Southern Hemisphere – I’ve been to a few Australian shows and they haven’t got anything on this.”

Frank describes his volunteering as “a job without a portfolio”. There are a group of volunteers that chip in wherever they are needed – but it is the allure of being part of something special that keeps bringing Frank back year after year.

“Being part of it makes me feel pretty proud, to be honest. This is the biggest agricultural event in the Southern Hemisphere – that’s nothing to sneeze at!

“I’m just a spoke in the wheel and everyone chips in to play their part.”

What Fieldays means to exhibitors

Fieldays is an important event for farmers around the country – it’s an opportunity for exhibitors to showcase their latest innovations to the end user.

Someone who has witnessed the evolution of Fieldays firsthand is Allflex National Sales Manager, John Rutherford. Allflex has had a presence at Fieldays since its inception. Allflex started 63 years ago and John says the company identified from the beginning that there needed to be a collective place that farmers can go to and review the latest technology or make informed purchasing decisions.

“Whilst the regional shows are important, farmers attending the National Fieldays would see far more in one place,” John says. “You’re likely to get a lot more variation and the very latest technology at Mystery Creek.

“That’s why we were involved and to further reinforce this we built our own building there. It’s been there for about 35 years now, we occupy it during the Fieldays and the National Fieldays Society utilise it when running other events during the year.

John says the advantage of having our own building at the grounds was they have a “consistent canvas” every year, without having to put up a tent. “It gave us power, kitchen, toilet and a hospitality area for our guests to use – somewhere to sit down, chat and have a cuppa.”

In the early 90s Allflex owned many iconic rural brands. Along with visual and electronic identification they were manufacturing and selling animal handling equipment, weigh scales, animal health equipment, dairy plant and wool presses. Having a permanent building at Fieldays meant they could showcase all of that in one place.

“Personally, I’ve been involved with Allflex at the Fieldays for 25 years, I wasn’t on the stand the first 2 years but have been involved with the setup and staffing since then,” John says.

“In that time, I’ve seen constant improvements by the National Fieldays Society. In the early days there were power issues, traffic congestion and lots of mud. Mother Nature can throw just about any weather at the event now, the new roads and good drainage make things much better. It runs like a clock.”

John says the focus of Fieldays from an exhibitor’s perspective has always been about “technology of the day and of the new". They have gone from displaying EID tags to electronic weigh systems to the latest SCR cow monitoring, where a farmer can observe a cow’s health, activity and heat status 24 hours a day.

John says Fieldays have played a principal role in seeing the latest technologies adopted by farmers. He thinks we will see a new wave of adoption going forward, especially so in dairy as we move to milking less cows, smarter and with a cleaner environmental footprint.

“How is the Fieldays going to change? I don’t believe there will a lot of change to the Fieldays itself, it’s the innovations and technology of the future that will change. It's exciting and worthwhile being a part of”.

What Fieldays means for Farmlands staff

From attending as a farmer to helping shareholders as part of the Farmlands team, Brian McMillan has seen a lot in his two decades at Fieldays. As the years have passed and he has transitioned to the other side of the farm gate, the Paeroa Technical Field Officer has watched it grow from a “very small farmer field day, to an exhibition like a city”.

“It’s always been a good way to engage with different customers. We’re getting a lot more involved from the Farmlands side of it – we’ve gone from having information sharing about Farmlands to having a retail site, to having all our business units to last year having a big site, fully engaged with all groups of our shareholder base and potential shareholders,” Brian says.

“Having Mr G there last year had a huge impact. We had people of all ages coming through, which was great to see.”

Brian says he enjoys Fieldays because of the interaction with shareholders and the general public, spending the event enjoying face to face contact with different people from all walks of life.

“You get to hear the different stories from our shareholders,” Brian says. “Two or three years ago we had a couple of busloads of shareholders from North Canterbury, who a number of organisations – including Farmlands – had helped get away from the farm after being impacted by the drought.

“To see the response they got from Farmlands and other organisations was just tremendous, almost indescribable. They had a wonderful time.”

Brian says he also takes satisfaction from helping shareholders understand their co-operative more, especially the broad spectrum of the Farmlands business.

“We get shareholders saying ‘wow, I didn’t know you did this’. That’s transpired into getting wider engagement in the field,” Brian says.

“We’ve gone onto another stage where we’re totally immersed in our shareholder engagement as a co-operative. The feel good from our shareholders is tremendous. I get a great buzz from it, talking to shareholders that are farming 10,000ha or working on 1ha.

“You get the same feel good factor talking to the different shareholders. That’s whether they are walking in with their Farmlands hats, or them walking in with a different hat and walking out with a Farmlands hat! “I just enjoy being part of the team at Fieldays.”