A South Australian Tradition

The Royal Adelaide Show

Held from 5 – 14 September, the nation’s leading agricultural show wows patrons with an incredibly wide range of events, from art exhibitions, pig races and dog shows, to sheep herding demonstrations, stunt shows, and horticultural displays. Many of the events, displays, and demonstrations can only be experienced at the Show. For instance, it is one of the few venues where Australians can experience the traditional sport of woodcutting.

One of the most popular sections of the Show is Taste South Australia, where visitors can sample locally produced food and beverages, including cheese, beer, and wine. There are also cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs and television personalities. There is plenty of entertainment as well, including country music, live radio broadcasts, jesters and roving performers, fireworks displays, and even the Oz Rocket Man, who will “fly” through the main arena with a rocket strapped to his back.

The Royal Adelaide Show draws around 500,000 people each year – a remarkable number considering there are fewer than 1.7 million people living in the state. Visitors come from both rural and urban backgrounds and the Society is eager to educate them all about agriculture and its importance to Australia. “We explain and engage, particularly the younger generation,” says Richard Fewster, Society President and board chairman.

Children living in the city particularly benefit from the experience. “Approximately 20,000 schoolchildren come through the gate each year,” Mr Fewster reports, “and we must interact with them so they can understand agriculture better, so they don’t just see agriculture as something from the supermarket.” Increasingly, these children simply do not grasp where their food comes from, Mr Fewster adds. “We are discovering that a lot of children really don’t understand agriculture. They don’t understand that milk comes from a cow. They think that milk comes from a carton in the supermarket.”

This commitment to education stretches all the way back to the Society’s founding in 1839, when it began its mission to support and promote Australian agriculture. In those early days, the organisation first recognised the need for an agricultural bureau movement in order to help farmers succeed. “It then identified the need for a Department of Agriculture to work across these ag bureaus, so that farmers had the experts to provide the advice and information that they would need in this country because, to them, it was a foreign climate, it was foreign soil; it was very much unlike what they had experienced in [Europe],” Mr Fewster explains. The Society also saw the need to formally educate the next generation of farmers and established Roseworthy Agricultural College.

In the late 1800s, when refrigeration first came on the scene, the Society recognised the potential of exporting fresh produce to Europe and, in response, launched a joint venture with P&O shipping to start the first shipments of refrigerated primary produce. The Society also recognised the vast potential of Australia’s fledgling wine industry and encouraged wineries to promote their wares internationally.

And, of course, the Society saw the need to provide a means through which farmers could display their efforts – and be judged on them. The result is a show that endures to this day and still pushes the industry to be the best that it can be. “Through the 175 years, it has provided a platform for people to bring their produce [and] their livestock and have a benchmark against their contemporaries to say ‘this is excellence, this is what we should be aiming for.’” Mr Fewster explains. “I believe that is why it has stayed relevant to this day.”

The Society has also remained relevant by embracing and promoting the latest scientific advances. “Today we are really focused on agricultural education to bring younger people into the science of agriculture,” Mr Fewster explains. “In agriculture today, science is applied from the soil right through to the plate.” From “getting more production out of soil” to “managing the environment,” science has become key to meeting modern agricultural demands.

These scientific advances can help the industry stay on top – even as other traditional industries, such as manufacturing, falter. “I see the need for the country to invest heavily in the sciences of agriculture so that we can increase production and add more value to the food that we grow,” Mr Fewster says. The industry agrees, and has begun to focus heavily on adding value to the basic commodities that farmers produce. “We are not just shipping commodities; we are actually adding value so that when [the product] gets to the customer, it is ready to actually go on the table,” Mr Fewster explains. For example, barley can be made into beer, or grapes into wine, right here in Australia, rather than overseas, so that Australian farmers reap greater profits.

It is vital that, in the future, the nation continues to invest in the agricultural industry and related technologies in order to keep the industry strong. As soon as the science falls behind so too will the industry – and the Australian economy. “For us to maintain our viability as a country, we must invest more heavily in research and development,” Mr Fewster points out. The scope must be broad, he adds, covering the entire cycle, “from paddock to plate.”

There is no better platform to share the latest developments of this research than at the Royal Adelaide Show. In fact, the Society is already busy gathering the latest, leading edge events and exhibitions for next year’s show – even though this year’s show has not yet taken place. “We are already planning next year’s show now,” Mr Fewster remarks. “This [planning] is not something that happens a few weeks or months before the Show. We plan the Show literally 12 months in advance; we will be making decisions the day after the Show is finished that will be locking in attractions for next year’s show.” The massive production requires some paid staff, but the experts behind the event do not get compensated. “We don’t get paid, we are just in it for the love and the passion and the excitement of seeing it happen.”

These volunteers have also been greatly rewarded by seeing the Show’s ongoing success, Mr Fewster adds. The event has broken four records in the last ten years – and continues to grow. This growth is in stark contrast to the shrinking interest that many similar shows are experiencing throughout the country. “It goes against the national average,” Mr Fewster points out. This continued interest also proves that the Society is doing something right. “We have changed and adapted and are focusing on the right areas. We are stimulating thought in agricultural communities about innovation and new products.” After 175 years, The Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of South Australia is still fulfilling its mission – and throwing one of the most entertaining and educational events our nation sees each year.

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September 26, 2018, 9:59 AM AEST