National Fieldays celebrating its 50th anniversary

From humble beginnings in 1969, the New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays have grown to become the largest agribusiness event in the Southern Hemisphere.

Originally held at Hamilton’s Te Rapa Racecourse – the Town and Country Fair as it was known then – the event aimed to bring rural and urban audiences together to celebrate New Zealand’s farming industry and lifestyle and the contribution it makes to the economy. 

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Fast forward 50 years and Fieldays® is a staple on many agricultural people’s calendars, with hundreds of thousands descending on Mystery Creek each June. This year, it celebrates its 50th year of showcasing agriculture and innovation.

Celebrations for the 50 Jubilee are already underway. Back at the birth site of New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays, politicians, agricultural leaders, past and present presidents and members of the New Zealand National Fieldays Society, Waikato Racing Club members and other VIP guests relived the early days with speeches and anecdotes, unveiling a specially commissioned anniversary sculpture.

Speaking at the event to a backdrop of photos and film of Fieldays throughout the decades, New Zealand National Fieldays Society CEO Peter Nation thanked the Waikato Racing Club for its collaboration in the early days and the sacrifices they made to help pull off the event.

"The organisers at that first event in 1969 thought they’d have a couple thousand people turn up. But on the day, it turned out to be more than 10,000 with cars parked all the way up Te Rapa Straight, which was farmland back then," Peter says.

"I can only imagine the state of the racecourse after the first day with all those people trampling across it. We’re very grateful for that early relationship with the racing club, a relationship we’re still proud to have."

The Fieldays Society

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He also thanked the original six farmers of the Fieldays Society, whose tenacity and perseverance, he said, paved the way for Fieldays to become the premiere agricultural showcase it is today, contributing half a billion dollars to the global economy each year.

"Those first six farmers approached ANZ in North Hamilton for a 100% of $62,500 – $430,000 in today’s money – so they could move Fieldays to Mystery Creek. At the time, Mystery Creek was a run-down dairy farm but had been identified as the site to house the event for future growth.

"The story goes that when the Society went into the bank, they were asked what security they had for the loan, and one of the farmers threw a roll of copper wire on the bank manager’s desk and said, ‘this is the only asset we own’."

That wire had been used for communication at Fieldays over the loudspeakers at Te Rapa Racecourse, where it was removed each year and put into storage for safekeeping.

The anniversary sculpture unveiled last night, entitled Origin ‘68, incorporates the same copper wire that was thrown on that bank manager’s desk decades ago, mounted on the reclaimed native timber that once lined the Fieldays Society’s original boardroom.

"The copper in the sculpture is very important," Peter says. "It’s not only a valued commodity but it also signifies communication and the transfer of information, and relationships and collaboration. It also speaks to that No.8 wire mentality, that Kiwi way of just getting it done.

"It’s important the sculpture be for everyone to enjoy because Fieldays isn’t just an event for farmers and the agricultural industry; it’s a chance for everyone to get together and celebrate agriculture as a fantastic, integral part of New Zealand’s lifestyle and economy."

The event was one of many planned to celebrate Fieldays’ anniversary in the lead up to 13 June, when the 50th event kicks off at Mystery Creek. This year’s theme is the ‘future of farming’, with visitors and exhibitors being encouraged to start discussions around what the future of farming means to them.

2017 National Fieldays by the numbers

  • A record 133,588 people visited Fieldays in 2017 – its highest visitor number yet
  • There were more than 30,000 downloads of the Fieldays app
  • 998 exhibitors were showcased across 1473 sites
  • 232 volunteers helped make Fieldays 2017 a success
  • 10,680 visitors travelled by bus to Fieldays, a 200% increase on 2016
  • 93% of visitors rated Fieldays as very good or excellent

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