Agfest through the decades

IT IS that time of year when Agfest would ordinarily be setting up shop in the paddock.

This year, things look a little different with the event postponed until August to account for Covid-19 uncertainty and the prospect of greater crowd numbers.

To mark the significance of the May dates on the Agfest calendar, Tasmanian Country has produced a special end of financial year guide.

There are just under 120 days until the gates open for Agfest 2022 preparations are well under way for this year’s event.

More than 500 exhibitors have applied with organisers thrilled given the postponement, and the uncertainty around Covid-19.

“We are pumped, and we just can’t wait to be in the paddock with you all in August,” Agfest chairman Caine Evans said.

This year marks the 40th year since the first Agfest was held at Symmons Plains Raceway in 1983.

“I believe that it’s important to take the time to look back on our history and to see how Agfest grew into the event that we know and love today.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this committee as they steer Agfest out of a world pandemic – underpinning its future.”

Mr Evans said a State Government funding package had been crucial to supporting the event and the organisation.

The funding is broken down into three parts up to $850,000.

“We earmarked $150,000 to help improve the infrastructure at Quercus Rural Youth Park – which will deliver a better experience for exhibitors and patrons.
“The package also sees $350,000 to help support the organisation now, with a potential follow up payment up to $350,000 post-Agfest 2022.
“I can’t stress enough how grateful we are to the Tasmanian Government for their support.”

Rain or shine: a 40-year success

AGFEST reaches its 40-year milestone this year, so let’s look back at some of the biggest and best from Rural Youth’s iconic event.

The Rural Youth Organisation of Tasmania Inc. was originally administered by an officer from the Department of Agriculture and later operated with a part-time secretary on a modest grant of $14,000 pa.

Due to budgetary cuts in the early ’80s, the organisation had to stand on its own feet.

After the success of the World Ploughing competition in 1982, the changing nature of agricultural shows and the requirement for more exposure to the burgeoning agricultural industry, an opportunity began to form to build something special.

Agfest first came to be through the efforts of a committee of 30 past and present Rural Youth members, formed to build a “centrally located showcase for agriculture”.

The first Agfest was held in May 1983 at Symmons Plains, Perth, attracting 111 exhibitors and 9000 patrons across the two-day event.

Agfest became a three-day event from 1984 and by 1986 had outgrown Symmons Plains.

The organisation sought a permanent site and purchased a block of just under 200 acres at Carrick, Quercus Park.

The first Agfest held on this site in 1987 attracted 203 exhibitors and 23,000 patrons.

Today, Quercus Park still sits as the hub for Tasmanian agricultural shows, shining as a beacon of the agriculture in Tasmania for a week per year.

Prior to Covid, 70,000 people came through the gates in 2019, and fingers are crossed to reach those highs once again, when the gates open again on August 24.

How the seeds were sown

WE caught up with the Noel Bevan, who chaired the first Agfest back in 1983, to tell us his experiences in what got the field day off the ground.

Noel said Agfest was built on the bedrock of a few factors; firstly funding to Rural Youth across Australia had recently been cut.

In an effort to formulate another way to raise funds, it was decided that holding a field day, something larger and more central to those held in the past.

“It first started at the Sorell branch in late 1982, where the motion was moved to host a centrally located agricultural field day.
“When it came to the state meeting in February, it was decided then and there, and the rest is history.”

Secondly, there was a buzz around larger agricultural events, particularly after the unexpected success of the 1982 World Ploughing Contest in Longford.

Thirdly, there was a demand in the industry for a centralised showcase event.

“We’d seen examples of smaller machinery events in Tasmania, and we’d been contacted by a few machinery dealers asking to put something together since the Royal shows had begun to change their structure, expansions of the racecourses meant less room for machinery dealers.
“Effectively, there was a wealth of desire, of momentum in the agricultural industry at that time, and we had become the medium for that. “But there was no business plan to start with, it was a cumulation of youthful energy and desire that got it up off the ground.
“Judy McLean had a huge influence on keeping the traditions going and passing the knowledge down year-by-year.
“She came in as a recently hired secretary back in 1983 and served Rural Youth and Agfest for 30-plus years, she’s part of the reason its still going so strong.”

In 1983, Rural Youth Tasmania boasted about 700 members, while NSW had over 1000 and Victoria had over 7000 members.

Today, only Rural Youth Tasmania still operates.

“As a group, we are fantastically proud that Agfest has grown from strength to strength, widely regarded as one of if not the best field day in the country.”