Before there were smartphones, Twitter and Facebook, farmers perfected the art of social networking the good old-fashioned way — face to face at meetings, trade shows, and conferences during the busy winter season.
And that’s still what keeps ’em coming back for Alberta’s two biggest farm shows.
“For agricultural folk, whenever they gather, networking is a major component of what they do,” said Dave Fiddler, show manager for Farmfair International.
The Edmonton event has grown from humble beginnings 41 years ago into one of Western Canada’s largest — and longest running — farm shows. With nearly 300 exhibitors and 90,000 visitors over the week-long show, Farmfair attracts farmers from across the country who come to talk shop about beef.
“It’s where the beef industry comes to meet,” said Fiddler. “It’s the largest beef event in Alberta, and that is the major draw.”
Over the years, Farmfair has added equine events and sales, entertainment, and competitions to appeal to a broader audience — but it’s the visitors themselves who are the biggest draw.
“Coming to these events, going to the shows, seeing entertainment, and just as importantly, sitting down and having coffee — certainly, networking and socializing is a major component of any agricultural event,” said Fiddler.
Agri-Trade’s show manager Dianne Smirl agrees.
“They really want a place to socialize and network and connect with each other,” said Smirl.
“With agriculture being so spread out, it’s a great chance for them all to get together and compare notes on how this year was and what they’re planning for next year.”
Agri-Trade started out in Red Deer 31 years ago with 35,000 square feet. Today, the show has grown to over 300,000 square feet, more than 400 exhibitors, and 20,000 visitors during the 3-1/2-day event.
And while the show’s exhibits will be expanding even further in 2014, thanks to more outdoor tent space for exhibitors, some of that space will be dedicated to “social networking.”
“Our whole purpose for being is bringing the community together and allowing them, under one roof, to check out new equipment, but more importantly, catch up with their neighbours and people in the ag industry,” said Smirl.
“We’re going to have more space for you to hang out with other Alberta farmers and share stories and ideas.”
But shows like Agri-Trade and Farmfair play an important role in bridging the gap between producers and consumers as well, said Fiddler.
“Every year, we have a livestock innovation showcase, and in that area, a lot of consumers will stop by, talk to the producers, and ask how this affects them as a consumer,” he said.
“More and more, we’re also seeing an urban audience that wants to come out and find out where their food comes from and how it’s produced.”
Agri-Trade runs in Red Deer at Westerner Park from Nov. 5 to 8. Farmfair International is held at Northlands in Edmonton from Nov. 4 to 9.