Northlands strikes a balance for Farmfair 2019

Farmfair organizers attempt to boost urban visitors while staying true to the show’s roots

The Extreme Cowboys competition, an obstacle course that tests horsemanship skills, calls itself “the fastest-growing equine sport.” It’s making its Farmfair debut this year.
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With a new focus on attracting urban audiences, Farmfair International’s organizers are offering new kinds of programming while keeping old fans happy.

The first step was thinking beyond cattle.

Farmfair 2019, which runs Nov. 6-10 at the Edmonton EXPO Centre, features programming dedicated to smaller critters such as bees, rabbits and urban chickens — not to mention “extreme cowboys.”

Driving this new focus was last year’s attendance numbers, said Jessie Radies, director of agriculture with Northlands.

Although the 2018 show — the first without the ever-popular Canadian Finals Rodeo nearby — was generally considered a success, attendance paled in comparison to recent years. The 2016 event, for example, drew more than 95,000 attendees compared to just over 40,000 last year.

“Our attendance was obviously lighter (last year) than it has been in previous years,” said Radies. “But in spite of that reduction in attendance a lot of the beef exhibitors saw a lot of results from the show.

“Our trade show probably suffered the most from the reduced attendance, so we started looking for different ways to bring in more small livestock and maybe add a little bit more urban attendance to help deliver value for the trade show exhibitors, beef exhibitors and our sponsors.”

However, the addition of urban-focused events does not mean Farmfair — now in its 46th year — has lost sight of what made it one of Canada’s premier agricultural events, said Radies.

“It will always be a purebred livestock show. That is the heart and soul of Farmfair.”

Backyard chickens and extreme cowboys

The Chickens 101 workshop is a response to growing interest in raising backyard poultry in urban areas. Rules, regulations and best practices of keeping backyard chickens will be covered.

“The City of Edmonton has been piloting urban chickens for a few years and very recently lifted its limits on the number of licences it issues,” said Radies.

“There are some very specific limits on, for example, how many chickens residents can keep. People seeking to keep backyard chickens have to take this workshop before they can get permits to have chickens in their backyards.”

The workshop, held by River City Chickens, is on Nov. 8 (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Meeting Room 107 of the EXPO Centre).

Another new feature is the Extreme Cowboys competition (Nov. 8, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Hall D). Although the title may conjure up images of rodeo (already a pretty extreme sport) on caffeine, it’s actually more akin to an obstacle course with horses, said Radies.

“It’s more about horsemanship skills. We hope that it appeals to a variety of recreational riders. It’s kind of an emerging sport.”

Czechs check in

A secondary but important component of Farmfair is connecting breeders, genetics companies and other ag businesses with those looking to buy cattle or genetics. For years, a key tool in this effort has been the inbound buyers program.

Participants from 14 countries are expected including, for the first time, attendees from the Czech Republic.

“We have a relatively large delegation coming from over there,” said Radies. “That was a bit of a surprise for us but we are really excited to host them. The Czech Republic is holding some very interesting international events within the next couple of years so we feel there is a great opportunity — especially for our Angus producers — to get some Canadian genetics showcased at those events.”

Goats part of bigger strategy

As part of its effort to increase Farmfair’s profile and boost attendance, Northlands has been courting various agricultural associations to hold their AGMs, conferences and other events at the show. This year the Alberta Goat Association has scheduled its 2019 conference at Farmfair.

“(Northlands) worked with them on a goat show at K-Days this year and they mentioned that they were looking for a location for their conference, so we worked through the logistics to see if they would fit within our space and if we had the infrastructure they required,” said Radies.

She hopes this is the start of a new trend.

“We just feel it could be a win win. Farmfair might get some new attendees who wouldn’t normally come to the show and the associations can usually save a little bit of money in their setup and room costs.”

Old favourites on deck

Purebred beef shows (Nov. 6-8 at various times in Hall B, Ring 2) have always been the anchor of the show. The national events this year include the Gelbvieh and Shorthorn shows in addition to the Western National Hereford show which Farmfair hosts annually. (For a detailed schedule, go to

Another highlight is the Alberta Supreme Show (Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. in Hall D), a popular annual showcase featuring breed champions from the top three cattle shows in Alberta: the Olds Fall Classic, the Lloydminster Stockade Round-up and Farmfair International. The grand champions from all breeds and their owners compete head to head for show titles and a total of $110,000 in prizes, including a new RAM truck.

Champions return

The Champion of the World competition, an international cattle show, made its Farmfair debut last year. The first step for would-be world champions is to win their country’s premier breed show. Each participating region — North America, South America, Europe and Asia/Africa — then selects competitors for the international Champion of the World competition.

This year Farmfair will award continental and British world champions. The breeds include Angus, Charolais, Galloway, Hereford, Limousin, Other Registered Breeds (Maine Anjou), Shorthorn, Simmental and Speckle Park.

It’s an an opportunity to expose top-notch international breeders to Alberta cattle, said Radies.

“It worked very well last year so we have expanded it for this year,” said Radies.

What’s old is new again

In 2018, the Heritage Ranch Rodeo reclaimed its spot as Farmfair’s evening entertainment for the first time in years. This long-running rodeo (6:30 p.m., Nov. 7-9, Hall D) is different from most, with an emphasis on practical ranching skills such as team sorting, stray gathering and wild cow milking.

The rodeo’s shift to evenings was successful, said Radies.

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