Town and country came together in New Zealand’s capital last night to mark the 50th anniversary of New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays, which was first held in Hamilton in 1969.
Leaders from government, agriculture and business gathered in the Grand Hall in Wellington’s Parliament for the function, which included speeches from Director-General of Ministry for Primary Industries, Martyn Dunne, and New Zealand National Fieldays Society CEO Peter Nation.
Fieldays is recognised as the largest agricultural event in the Southern Hemisphere. The official launch at Parliament is 90 days out from the 50th anniversary of Fieldays, which will be held 13-16 June at Mystery Creek near Hamilton.
Mr Nation said it was an honour to be hosted at Parliament’s Grand Hall, which is a privilege only offered to non-profit organisations and community groups.
“Parliament is the powerhouse of New Zealand, and the opportunity to have our 50th anniversary launch event there indicates the significance of Fieldays to the country,” said Mr Nation. “Fieldays is important to New Zealand’s primary industries. For 50 years we’ve been bringing urban and rural communities together and working to advance agriculture through technology, education, innovation and internationalisation.”
The New Zealand National Fieldays Society board, and its president Peter Carr, also attended last night’s event, along with representatives from top New Zealand agricultural organisations and businesses.
In addition, a large group of MPs attended, as well as senior officials from Ministry of Primary Industries and Callaghan Innovation, which demonstrated the strength of connections between Wellington and Mystery Creek, said Mr Nation.
“We really value the support we’ve had over the years from local government and central government,” said Mr Nation. “Fieldays has always been a place that prime ministers and MPs have come to talk to farmers and take the pulse of the industry. Fieldays is a place to connect with CEOs and business leaders, check out the latest innovations and to meet with people.”
This year’s theme is ‘the future of farming’ and will focus on agricultural trends and ideas, with the aim of starting a discussion on what farming’s future will look like for New Zealand. “As an event, Fieldays has always looked forward, so the theme – the future of farming – was very apt,” said Mr Nation.
There will be a focus on food production and nutrition, including “where food comes from,” said Mr Nation, who added that Fieldays is committed to “leading conversations” about important issues affecting rural communities and agricultural.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Communities, Hon Damien O’Connor, who couldn’t be at last night’s event, also congratulated Fieldays on its 50th anniversary and praised its role in New Zealand’s primary industry.
“New Zealand’s economic future depends on our ability to sustainably produce the finest primary sector products for a growing global population. But we need to move quickly to ensure we are in step with the staggering pace of market and technological change. Fieldays is a special event where we can come together to confront these issues and progress a shared vision for a better New Zealand.”
Fieldays is run by the New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays Society Inc., a charitable society founded in 1968 to advance the primary industry.
In 1969, the first New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays was held at Hamilton’s Te Rapa Racecourse, before moving to its current location at Mystery Creek in 1971. The Town and Country Fair, as it was known then, was a two-day event that aimed to bring rural and urban audiences together to celebrate New Zealand’s farming industry and lifestyle and the contribution it makes to the economy.
The first event saw about 10,000 visitors and 80 exhibitors. By 2017, Fieldays had grown significantly. Last year a record 133,588 people visited Fieldays during the four-day event. There were 998 exhibitors across 1473 sites, and delegates from more than 40 countries. In 2017, the event generated $538 million in sales for New Zealand firms and overall contributed $238 million to the country’s gross domestic product.
For townies, Fieldays provides a taste of farming life, and for farmers – it is a welcome day off the farm, and perhaps grab a bargain or eye up a new tractor or farm Ute. It’s a place to check out the latest farming equipment, agricultural inventions and innovations, and to catch up with friends and business contacts.
Fieldays is now a four-day event and features an Innovations Centre, Careers and Education programme and live-action kitchen theatre, as well as a Health and Wellbeing Hub on the 114-hectare site at Mystery Creek, 10 minutes from Hamilton. Competitions, including the Tractor Pull and the revamped Rural Bachelor competition – now named Rural Catch and featuring both female and male competitors – keep the crowds entertained.
“Part of changing the Rural Bachelor competition is us acknowledging that times have changed, and it’s important to recognise the important role and contribution of rural women,” said Mr Nation. “This year four women will compete against four men in the Fieldays Rural Catch. When we talk about ‘the future of farming’, equality and representation is part of that.”
The 50th anniversary event will also see events happening in Hamilton City. Art lovers can check out the entries in the No. 8 Wire National Art Awards at ArtsPost in Hamilton, and Waikato Museum will feature a 50th Fieldays-themed exhibition.