by Rodney Harwood, The Daily Record
Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-California) and Congressman Billy Long (R-Missouri) have introduced H.R 7883, the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives to help preserve agricultural fairs across the country and offset the devastating financial losses they have experienced due to COVID-19. The Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act will provide grant funding for agricultural fairs through state departments of agriculture to keep them functioning and preserve them for the future.
The legislation provides $500 million in Agricultural Fair Rescue Grants to agricultural fairs, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The AMS will provide the grant funding to states or state departments of agriculture based on the loss of attendance those fairs have experienced in 2020.
Kady Porterfield, Event Center Director for the Kittitas County Fair said, “While having a virtual fair is better than nothing at all, it still doesn’t have the same affect that our traditional fair has on the youth, their families, and our community. The educational opportunities are clouded in a virtual situation and part of the experience is being there in the moment. A virtual show can’t replace or carry the full value of our true Kittitas County Fair. Not being able to hold our traditional fair and rodeo impacts even more including loss of temporary jobs and a huge decline in the economic impact it typically generates for the community businesses each year.
“The agricultural fairs across the United States serve vital community purposes. Besides the social and cultural impact, fairs provide the future leaders of this country — the 4-H and FFA members — with vital leadership skills development. Additionally, the economic impact to each community is significant. In the majority of communities, the fairgrounds serves as critical infrastructure in times of need – fire camps, hurricane and tornado shelters for humans and animals — and never more evident than now with many serving as COVID-19 testing sites, temporary hospitals, quarantine shelters, food distribution sites, and temporary polling places.”
According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), each year the operation of agricultural fairs results in $4.67 billion for the U.S. economy and supports thousands of jobs. About 2,000 fairs are held in North America each year, and large fairs can admit more than a million visitors over the course of a week or two.
Fairs, like so many other industries in the U.S., have suffered tremendous financial losses as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. IAFE estimates a loss of gross revenue exceeding $3.7 billion to fair organizations so far this year based upon the cancellation of facility events and their annual fair.
State and county fairs are a primary source for the promotion of U.S. agribusiness. They exhibit the equipment and animals associated with agriculture and animal husbandry, and livestock shows are prominent at many state fairs.
Fairs also encourage and develop the next generation of America’s food producers. Agricultural producers in rural America represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, and with the average age of a farmer being 57 years old, it is imperative to engage and encourage young people to pursue agricultural careers.