Celebrating 40 years of Agfest

AGFEST organisers and committee members reunited ahead of this year’s 40th anniversary in the paddock, celebrating the work of Rural Youth since the early 1980s.

When the first Agfest took place at its original Symmons Plains site in May 1983, the two-day event attracted a crowd of 9000 patrons and 111 exhibitors. Today, Agfest is renowned as one of the best examples of an agricultural field day and before the pandemic attracted more than 60,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors to its current Carrick site. Rural Youth Tasmania and members of the farming community spent time together and reflected on the significance of the milestone achievement. Almost all of the past 17 chairmen and members of their committees attended the reunion with more than 170 people reminiscing and sharing stories at Quercus Park.

“The 40th anniversary allows us an opportunity to look back on our past and see where we came from and where we are now,” Agfest Chair Caine Evans said. “The 1983 Agfest Committee, the very first, must be held up in the highest regards in this organisation’s history. “They were truly pioneers and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude far beyond what we could ever repay.”

Honourary Life Memberships were awarded to Helen Geard and Ronald Gunn for their exceptional contributions. Service awards were also presented to Katie Crane, Michael Buckby, Christine Mann and Chris Brown in recognition of their significant contribution to Rural Youth Tasmania. “These people have upheld the values and traditions of our organisation throughout their involvement and continue to do so today,” Rural Youth State president Josh Mison said.

“They have given their time, blood sweat and tears selflessly to see Rural Youth and Agfest grow and succeed long into the future. Collectively, Agfest contributes up to $40 million to the Tasmanian economy each year, with hundreds of businesses relying on Agfest trade and networking opportunities to improve their growth and profitability.

Before the Agfest story began, 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 ($14,000pa) from that department.

Due to budgetary cuts in the early 80s, the organisation had to find other means of income. After the success of the World Ploughing competition in 1982, the changing nature of agricultural shows across the nation 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 event was held between the tarmac of Symmons Plains Raceway in Perth in May 1983. Agfest became a three-day event from 1984. The field days grew in popularity and by 1986 had outgrown Symmons Plains. The organisation set about finding a permanent site and purchased a block of just under 200 acres at Carrick, Quercus Park. The first Agfest to be held on this site was in 1987 and attracted 203 exhibitors and 23,000 patrons.

Today, Quercus Park still sits as the hub for Tasmanian agricultural shows, shining as a beacon of agriculture in Tasmania for a week per year, still attracting 10,000 visitors per-day during the peak of Covid restrictions. Before that, 70,000 people came through the gate in 2019, and fingers are crossed to reach those highs once again this year.