The Show Went On at the Missouri State Fair

( BellyFire Productions )

The money went out, but it didn’t come back in this year at the Missouri State Fair. For fair administrators, the 2020 Missouri State Fair was a far cry from what they anticipated a year ago. But they did achieve their most important goal – despite the challenges caused by COVID-19. They gave young people from across their state the opportunity to exhibit their livestock project.

It’s the only number that looks good on the books this year. 4-H and FFA livestock entries increased from 4,877 in 2019 to 5,405 in 2020.  

Sadly, other numbers tell a different side of the story. In 2019, more than 950 employees worked one of the most beloved events of the year for the state. In 2020, only 112 employees worked the event. Concessions alone dropped from 399 vendors in 2019 to 30 in 2020. 

“It's a multimillion dollar hit to our fair not to have the fair,” said Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe in a video produced by BellyFire Productions highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. agricultural fairs. “It’s an additional hit to go on and do what we did. There's an expense that goes along with that, with the help and the folks that are out here [working] and the electric usage and all the things that are going along with what we're doing.”

But Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was emphatic that we were having a fair, Wolfe said. 

“In mid-July, the decision was made that we would pivot away from a more normal fair and go to the youth livestock only. We reduced the risk and at the same time, we did the one thing that we really wanted to do,” Wolfe said. 

They gave kids a chance to show their animals. 

“They are the future of agriculture in our state and it’s the No.1 economic impact of the state every year,” Wolfe said. 

FFA member Laney Gaston exhibited several pigs at the show.

“Having shows is very important,” she said. “To see other state fairs get canceled, you see the disappointment of those kids that have worked all year to get their pig to be in their prime position and not even get to show them.” 

According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), the operation of agricultural fairs results in $4.67 billion each year for U.S. fair operations. This estimate does not include the full economic impact for the communities. 

“There's tremendous economic ripple throughout the community. As fairs begin to look toward 2021, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is severe,” said Marla Calico, IAFE president and chief executive officer. 

Wolfe doesn’t question their decision to hold the livestock events for youth this year.

“We knew what we were facing. But, I think we did the right thing. It was important and we'll figure the money out,” Wolfe said. “We're going to be back here in 2021 having the Missouri State Fair, I have no doubt.”

Read more from Farm Journal’s PORK:

2020 Missouri State Fair Pivots to a Youth Livestock Show

State Fairs in 2020: Decisions No One Wants to Make

10 Realities Fairs Must Face Due to COVID-19

Will COVID-19 Forever Change Livestock Shows?

State Fair Cancellations Shatter Dreams Across the Country