For the Capital Press

Fair season in Oregon is a time-honored tradition. The first fairs were held in our state in the 1800s as agricultural associations were formed and county fairs were held.

The first state fair was unofficially held in 1858. Fairs were originally created to showcase the latest in agricultural techniques, equipment, crops and livestock.

The spirit of fairs was to provide an opportunity for people to come together, to celebrate progress and achievements, share information and build community. And that tradition continues today.

As we enter the fair season, youths are working hard to prepare their livestock for show and judging. For these kids, the fair is the culmination of a year working with their animals, learning about nutrition, animal care, cost of production, responsibility and follow-through -- all valuable lessons for life. The opportunity to work with livestock through FFA or 4-H is also helping to develop the next generation of ranchers and farmers in Oregon.

Agriculture has always played an important role in Oregon's history. Ranchers and farmers were some of the first inhabitants of our state and realized the opportunities that existed not to just build a home and life for their families, but to build an industry that would produce income, business opportunities and contribute to building a state's economy.

And not a lot has changed. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that fewer people are entering the careers of farming and agriculture. It is estimated that by 2050, the world will require an increase of 70 percent in food production to keep up with population growth. Yet, the fastest growing group of ranchers and farmers are over the age of 62.

Our future lies in those young people who will be showing their heifer or steer this summer at their local county fair. They are the ones who hold the promise of continuing the positive economic impact of the cattle industry for Oregon, of continuing the conservation and sustainability in place on ranch and public lands, and will be the leaders in continuing the way of life that Oregon holds dear.

Show them your support this summer by attending your local county fair. It's an investment in the future of us all.

Curtis Martin is president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and ranches in North Powder, Ore. Kay Teisl is executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

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