SALEM — Oregon State Fair organizers say they are continuing to strengthen relationships with livestock exhibitors.
Kris Jones, open class livestock coordinator, said customer service, programming and growth for exhibitors are top priorities for rebuilding livestock events after participation plummeted two years ago.
Tensions arose when changes in management occurred in 2010. Dairy superintendent Paul Lindow said one factor stressing relationships between the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which runs the fair, and exhibitors happened when the department decided to no longer provide animal bedding.
In response, a 30-person Livestock Advisory Committee, with representatives from each livestock exhibition category, was formed in 2012. Jones said the panel has helped identify the needs of the livestock community, as well as learning how better to connect with fair-goers.
“Before it was a very top-down system; now it’s very exhibitor driven,” she said. “In the past, the relationship (between exhibitors and the parks department) was not a positive one; now it’s very open and positive.”
In 2012, the committee focused on meeting exhibitor needs and reintroduced bedding as a component of entry fees. The same program was carried over this year, and entry fees did not increase, Jones said.
“I’ve had exhibitors who haven’t been here in three years come back,” Lindow said. “We probably (had) about 175 exhibitors for dairy, which is twice as much as we had last year.”
This year organizers brought in two new types of animals — alpacas and angora goats — to bolster program participation as part of the second step in event revitalization.
“We also had Ayrshire cattle for the first time since 2011,” Jones said.
Garry Hansen, of Lady Lane Farms, trucked 18 head of registered Jersey cows from Mulino, Ore., about 35 miles northeast of Salem.
Hansen said despite the improvements, he still feels there is a “lack on behalf of management to encourage participation,” citing other fairs, such as the Puyallup Fair, now called the Washington State Fair.
“It takes a lot of cargo space just to carry feed,” Hansen said. “The economics of this industry just isn’t conducive to bringing animals to the fair any more. It’s expensive.”
Jones said feed might be identified as a need at future fairs.
Brian and Megan Christiansen, owners of Christiansen Dairy in Turner, Ore., said they appreciate the fair supplying straw for their seven Holsteins.
“It’s one less thing to have to worry about bringing,” Megan said.
The 2014 fair, Jones said, will be the last official step in reestablishing livestock events, but the programs and events will continue evolving long after that. She said the advisory committee will evaluate how events and programs worked this year and figure out how to increase participation and best represent agriculture at the fair.
“We’re all working together to make this a great event,” Jones said. “Our focus is to make the Oregon State Fair the best fair on the West Coast.”
Jones noted the number of entries increased in every livestock category this year.
She predicts the upward trend will continue as organizers create more opportunities for animals to be shown at the fair.
The Oregon Legislature earlier this year approved a total reorganization of the state fair that will ultimately put it in under an independent board.