Field days 'exchange of ideas' create economic benefits

This month's national agribusiness showcase will continue to generate a huge number of sales, but its bigger value is less tangible, says a Waikato University agribusiness expert. 

National field days regularly generate hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, but sales alone do not reflect the true long-term benefit, says Waikato University Agribusiness Professor Jacqueline Rowarth.

The 44th episode of the national field days kicks off at Mystery Creek outside Hamilton next week.

Two-yearly research by Waikato University's management school has estimated the 2010 event generated $129 million for the Waikato economy, and $529 million nationally, through equipment sales and flow-on effects.

That figure was $865 million in 2008.

Another economic analysis will be done following this year's event.

Mystery Creek organisers say demand for exhibitor sites has been as greater than ever this year, with 99% of the 1400 spaces available being filled by March.

In 2011 more than 117,000 people attended the field days over four days, with exhibitor sales generating $450 million.

Event manager Vanessa Richmond told NBR ONLINE while dairy has traditionally been a staple feature, it has been great to see more "niche" sectors such as horticulture and beef come to the forefront in recent years.

"Last year we had a very strong presence from the wool sector. That really gave a strong lift to sheep farming."

She says the number of international visitors is relatively small, with about 300 attending last year.

Most people attending field days are involved in agriculture in some way, with 64% describing their living style as farming, lifestyle or rural settlement, according to a 2011 survey of 3154 visitors.

Prof Rowarth says while a surge of expenditure is expected as a result of field days, the bigger economic benefit is the increased interaction between the urban and rural community.

She says field days enables an "exchange of ideas" which creates long-term benefits, including product enhancements and improved efficiency.

"Each year, people go back to their own places and say, 'I wonder if I could do that differently'.

"You get the urban people coming in and making comments and testing products, and then farmers and food preparers can go away and come up with ways to do it better."

Field days is the ultimate event for the exchange of ideas because it brings the farming, urban and business communities together, Prof Rowarth says.

This is important because while the number of us living in urban areas is over 86%, research shows most New Zealanders think if the rural sector is doing well, people in the urban sector will too, she says.

Conversely, only a minority of rural Kiwis think urban New Zealand is equally as important.

Prof Rowarth says it is important for urban people to go to the field days because New Zealand's agriculture sector needs strong recruits.

"We need top-class people who can handle the new technologies, the animals and the soil, and all the human resources issues as well.

"There are great careers to be had in agriculture, and it's right through from the pasture and animals to the banks and the gear and equipment.

"Agriculture is not just something that happens out in the country. This is New Zealand, it happens everywhere," says Prof Rowarth.