The biggest show in the south

by Andy Bryenton

Every site is sold out well in advance, the fields are prepared and levelled, the working crews are poised to erect acres of canvas and kilometres of rope, and an army of exhibitors are polishing heir machines, their sales pitches and their hoardings for the biggest event on the southern rural calendar — the Southern Field Days, held this year in the town of Waimumu near Gore.

Like the great national field days at Mystery Creek, this is set to be a feast for the eyes, with all the latest in technology on display. It’s also a feast in the more traditional sense, with plenty to sample, eat, drink and taste as patrons take in the huge complex of stalls, tents and marquees making up the site. Every two years the show returns to the deep south, and each time it’s become bigger.

This year from February 14 to February 16, an otherwise unassuming field just south of Gore will become a temporary combination of a city, carnival and sales forecourt, along with the venue for a variety of unique competitions.

Farming is increasingly a business, which thrives on innovation and technology. One could say that it’s been that way since the (naturally kiwi) invention of the electric fence.

But today the pace of change is rapid, with everything from satellite-controlled self-drive systems for tractors through to drones, which assess the health of livestock via infrared cameras on the horizon, if not here already. The Southern Field Days is the first in a calendar of such shows throughout the nation, and it’s often the first place where new technology breaks cover. Inventors and innovators from both here and overseas gather to display the cutting edge of farm automation, information systems and of course heavy machinery. Live demos of diggers, tractors and implements put all that hydraulic power in the spotlight, a spectacle even for those who don’t need to consider which new model to park in the shed. At the same time, smart ideas vie for cash prizes in the Rural Life Farm Innovation Awards, a seedbed for fresh thinking.

Traditional skills get a workout too, as shearers and fencers go head-to-head for glory. The fencing contest — not the one with the tiny swords, the kind with hammers and pliers — is particularly hotly contested, with the title of ‘best in the South’ carrying immense kudos. 

There’s a contest of a different kind associated strongly with this three day event as well — the famous Speight’s Southern Man competition. Sponsored by the famous local brewers, who have made the archetypal ‘southern man’ their icon, this contest mixes up all the skills and talents a well rounded gent from the heartland of the south should possess. These can range from throwing together a romantic dinner for two, all the way back to chopping wood or repairing a chainsaw.

Adding to the rows of modern tractors on display, ready to roll out into the fields with new owners, are the machines here to compete.

Tractor pull competitions are slugfests of raw brawn, where diesel is turned into thunderous horsepower, clouds of smoke and showers of mud. Pitted against the weight of the merciless sledge, drivers must carefully decide on their attack, tyre pressure and the sheer tolerance of their engines as a fleet of custom-built monsters square off across three days.

There’s even a pre-1985 class for the classics of yesteryear.

For farmers in the South Island, the Southern Field Days marks an important date on the calendar, and with its place early in February firmly circled in red, it’s still the first and foremost in the country. Alongside the family fun, agricultural innovations and carnival atmosphere there’s bound to be more than one or two experts watching to see how it all will unfold, keen to predict farming trends for 2018. 

Before the show even opens, it’s a sellout success with every spot taken. 

That bodes well for the whole industry — and for three days filled with the latest and greatest, which farming has to offer.