Despite challenges, Farmfair International soldiers on

Industry continues to support long-running Edmonton-based ag 
show and the number of exhibitors and foreign attendees is up

It’s been a year of mixed blessings for Edmonton’s Farmfair International.

On the one hand, international interest in the long-running agriculture show is at an all-time high and local support appears as positive as ever. On the other, debate over the future ownership of Northlands’ facilities has put the future of the show’s longtime home in question. And then there’s the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s since-reversed decision to move the Canadian Finals Rodeo — an event that has run concurrently with Farmfair for decades — to Saskatoon in 2018. (The association recently decided to extend its stay in Edmonton for two more years.)

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However, Northlands officials are confident in the future of the show, which is now in its 43rd year.

“Farmfair International is going to continue its legacy as the premier showcase for agriculture in Alberta,” said Suzanne Bielert, event manager with Northlands. “We’re focused on delivering a quality program for our industry partners, and by adding in new programs we feel we will be here far into the future.

“We’ve been here for 43 years. We look forward to being here for 43 more.”

This year, 220 operations — up from just under 200 in 2015 — from across Canada will be exhibiting at Northlands’ EXPO Centre Nov. 9-13. Several new events have been added this year while Northlands continues to build on the show’s popular programs, said Bielert.

Growing global reputation

And Farmfair continues to develop its status as an international attraction, with 70 farms and companies from all over the world — up from 50 in 2015 — are expected to attend the show. Promoting the event to the world is a year-round process, said Stacy Felkar, international marketing manager at Northlands.

“The inbound buyer program has ambassadors in various markets all around the world promoting Farmfair,” she said. “Meanwhile, I work on engaging our contacts, such as trade commissioners, in the various markets. The Alberta government has been fantastic at helping promote the program as well, inviting producers on our behalf when they’re on their trade missions.”

These efforts appear to have paid off. This year the show includes registrants from Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, the U.K., and the U.S. New countries to the show this year include Honduras and Paraguay. In total, the delegates represent 90,000 head of cattle, which means significant buying power, said Felkar.

“There is huge Latin, Central, and South American interest this year,” she said. “The ambassador is a few years into his role now and is making a lot of connections.

“I think it grows exponentially once you have the buyers come and experience the program and the show. They talk about it to their people too, so they in effect become ambassadors as well. I think the lower Canadian dollar also helps because their dollar goes further.”

Every year Farmfair’s ambassador team embarks on an outbound mission to a trade show in another country. This year it was to the Sydney Royal Easter Show in Australia. This outreach is at least partially responsible for Australia’s strong representation at Farmfair this year, said Felkar.

“Our Australian numbers are probably double,” she said. “During our outbound mission we toured various farms, especially the ones that purchased Canadian genetics, and saw what impacts those genetics are having on their farms. The relationship side of our program is so important.”

Connecting buyers and sellers

Interested delegates are “qualified” through ambassadors based on a number of factors.

“Sometimes it’s based on the number of head they have or why they want to come and be part of the inbound buyer program,” said Felkar.

Once the delegates are accepted, Northlands works with them to tailor their experience to their needs.

“It’s kind of a little like a concierge service,” she said. “If someone is looking to connect with a specific producer, we can do an introduction. If they’re looking for a certain livestock equipment product, we can help them find that information.

“We work with our network of stakeholders in the programs: government, exporters, genetics companies, and, of course, the producers. Between all of us we make sure they get what they need, meet their business objectives and have a great Canadian experience that makes them want to keep coming back.”

One new effort that has helped connect buyers and sellers is the Exhibitor catalogue. Introduced at last year’s show, the catalogue is both an online and physical publication that offers a sample of show exhibitors and what they have for sale.

“It works really well,” said Felkar. “International producers on site found it handy because they could use the catalogue to find the producers in the barn, whether they have a specific bull in their ad that they’re promoting or specific embryos for export. It’s good marketing and promotion for exhibitors who took part in it.”

Good investments

Farmfair International has received some extra 1:1 funding this year from the Canadian Beef Breeds Council by way of the federal Growing Forward 2 AgriMarketing program.

Farmfair and similar shows are good investments for the beef industry, said Michael Latimer of Olds, executive director of the beef breeds council.

“They bring a lot of buyers into Canada and add quite a bit of value back to our Canadian genetics,” said Latimer, who has been attending Farmfair for nearly his entire life.

“From the standpoint of the Canadian Beef Breeds Council and a member of a family that exhibits cattle there, I think the Farmfair show is very, very important. We find the livestock exhibitions are still pretty critical to the success of the cattle industry, not only in Alberta but in Canada and internationally.

“This is despite the advances we’ve made in science. You can select genetics without having a show but the shows have been the best way to keep advancing those genetics.”

For more information on Farmfair, go to farmfairinternational.com.

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