In a week of online events, the RNAA’s Agri-Tech Week event looked at how agricultural show societies have harnessed the digital world to offer vital education, promotion, and connection during the Covid pandemic. Emily Norton found inspiring examples of successful and rapid adaptation, and optimism for the future, both at home and abroad.
Getting back to face-to-face
In its 116-year history the ‘Royal Welsh’ has developed into a major event. “It’s like a layer cake,” says Steve Hughson, chief executive of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society. “So many layers: livestock, food, shopping, social, politics and business. It’s a real cultural event attracting people from across the UK.”
The show has always innovated; it is one of the first 5G-enabled showgrounds in the whole of the UK, and during 2020 has switched to hosting virtual events.
But Steve envisages face-to-face events becoming viable again soon, in spite of Covid restrictions. “We need to see a return to well-regulated outdoor events,” he says.
“In spite of people becoming ‘screen weary’ we see virtual events as here to stay, alongside in-person events. There’s real potential in smaller sector-specific events, run with social distancing, such as the Grassland Event which typically attracts less than 5,000 attendees compared to the 50 – 60,000 we see at bigger events.”
“2021 and beyond present us with opportunities to refocus on what can work really well in the current conditions.”
A hybrid for the future
Best known for its Agritechnica event, the DLG represents a forward-thinking force in German agriculture. “We have a real focus on innovation and science,” explains Dr Reinhard Grandke, DLG’s chief executive.
“Covid has been a catastrophe,” says Reinhard. “Our in-person events have not been able to take place although many have switched to virtual which has worked well, and in some cases has attracted more participants than real events.”
Reinhard has an optimistic view on DLG’s post-Covid future: “When the pandemic is over we expect bigger attendances than before due to increased demand for face-to-face events. We’ll combine these with virtual science-based functions as hybrid events.”
“In the meantime, we’re working closely with our event exhibitors and providing online opportunities and digital platforms to allow them to get in front of customers once again.”
Broadcasting to the world
Attracting more than 130,000 visitors over a four-day period, National Fieldays events give New Zealand’s farmers and manufacturers exposure domestically and abroad. “But on March 16 the business came to a complete halt as mass gatherings were cancelled,” remembers Peter Nation, chief executive of the New Zealand National Fieldays Society.
“But we set our sights on keeping our brand and our story alive. We set about putting Fieldays online as best we could like a physical event; we really wanted to retain the culture and the look and feel of face-to-face Fieldays. We launched the exhibitor platform and had over 24 hours of filmed content to present.”
The results were impressive, says Peter, and created valuable opportunities to further expand New Zealand’s role on the global agricultural stage. “We had over 90,000 viewers in New Zealand and in more than 75 countries worldwide.”
“Over 90% of online exhibitors have confirmed they’ll be back next year, when we hope to integrate physical and online events to help us maintain our overseas reach. We’re ramping up our ability to reach out to the world.”