Summer means it is fair season in Nebraska. From county fairs to the state fair, Nebraskans come together to celebrate Nebraska agriculture and the best our communities have to offer. Agricultural fairs have been a part of our state’s heritage since before our founding in 1867, and 151 years later they continue to help the next generation stay connected to and learn about our state’s number one industry.
Perhaps President Abraham Lincoln put it best during an address he delivered at a Wisconsin fair in 1859: “[Fairs] bring us together, and thereby make us better acquainted, and better friends than we otherwise would be. They make more pleasant, and more strong, and more durable, the bond of social and political union among us. But the chief use of agricultural fairs is to aid in improving the great calling of agriculture, in all its departments, and minute divisions…’
Over the past few weeks, I have been traveling to county fairs with the Department of Agriculture to announce new counties who have joined the Livestock Friendly County Program. The Livestock Friendly County (LFC) program was created by the Nebraska Legislature in 2003 to recognize counties that support the livestock industry and new livestock developments. This designation lets the livestock industry know that the county is “open for business” and welcomes expansion of current facilities or the addition of new operations. A county wishing to be designated as a LFC must hold a public hearing, the county board must pass a resolution, and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) evaluates the county based on six key criteria.
At three fairs, we have designated Seward, Polk, and Furnas counties as livestock friendly. With these counties, over half of Nebraska’s counties are now livestock friendly. This is important because value-added agriculture and livestock development are key to growing our state’s number one industry and creating new opportunities for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. For example, Costco is building their first-ever poultry processing facility in Fremont. Projected to open in 2019, the project is expected to generate an overall economic impact of $1.2 billion annually, create approximately 800 new jobs, and bring opportunities to raise poultry for 125 farm families in eastern Nebraska. This will allow our farm families to build equity, diversify their operation, and bring the next generation back to the family farm. When it is fully operational, the project will utilize the equivalent of 2,000 acres of corn and 2,000 acres of soybeans every week.
The county fairs are a prelude to the Nebraska State Fair, which runs August 24th through September 3rd in Grand Island this year. Last year, the State Fair welcomed 379,108 people, an increase of 5 percent year-over-year and just shy of the all-time record. Fair organizers consistently add new features every year, and are looking to continue to attract more Nebraskans. Here are a few important stops for you to consider as you make plans for the fair.
From center pivot technology to a display on how eggs grow, the “Raising Nebraska” building helps connect Nebraskans with the fundamentals of modern agriculture. The 25,000 square foot exhibit features exhibits on soil conservation, a combine simulator, and an interactive aquifer, which connect visitors to virtually every aspect of modern day farming and ranching. This year, the NDA, along with numerous other commodity groups, will be utilizing the kitchen stage to showcase Nebraska food products. The NDA demonstrations will feature fresh, locally-sourced produce.
I always look forward to experiencing the fair food. This year, state fair attendees can look forward to a mac and cheese sandwich, a bacon wrapped gator corn dog, and bourbon honey pulled pork among many other options. My all-time favorite is the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Beef Pit where you can enjoy a delicious prime rib sandwich. There is no better way to celebrate our Beef State heritage!
In recent years, the fair has also become host to great concerts. This year’s fair will feature American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, country music duo Sugarland, and contemporary Christian artist Francesca Battistelli. You can find a full lineup of fair entertainment by visiting https://www.statefair.org/events/music.
Whether it is showing livestock or showcasing the latest innovations in agriculture, fairs have been bringing Nebraskans together and strengthening our communities for over 150 years. In the 21st century, they are more critical than ever, helping connect Nebraskans living in towns and cities across our state with the farm and ranch families at the heart and soul of our state’s number one industry. As you enjoy your local county fair or the State Fair, I hope you take time to share your experiences and reflections by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 402-471-2244. I look forward to hearing from you.