Compiled by Peter Cooper On Behalf of Agricultural Societies of Australia and the Royal Agricultural Society of WA

The IAFE Conference was once again a full program of informative and interactive sessions, networking coupled with an excellent trade show. This was the second year that the conference was held in San Antonio after relocating from a 42-year stint in Las Vegas. There were several trip related challenges placed in front of the writer, this stemmed from a delay at the commencement of the travel from Australia. All up 33 hours of travel to get to the Conference but well worth the effort. 

The IAFE Board met on the Saturday prior to the commencement of the conference and undertook a 6-hour meeting from a full agenda. Updates from the several Zones ensued with most reporting great attendance at their respective zone meetings. Discussion surrounding the conference and expectations was held including the requirements for Director duties during the 5 days. 

The IAFE was buzzing in the fact that they had attracted the involvement of the largest field of Australians, approx. 8 in total. There was great representation from around the US, Australia and Canada. The theme for the conference was “Champions of Change” which provided for 3 keynote speakers during the week. The Chairperson for the conference was Jessica Underberg, who is coming out to Australia to speak at the ASA Conference on the Gold Coast in January 2020. 

There were numerous sessions available to the conference attendee but more importantly multiple formats. There were full conference sessions that ran in a traditional classroom format through to Campfire discussion in you guessed it, camping chairs. Sessions varied in length from 3 hours down to multiple presentation that went for 15 minutes (I personally liked these as it focussed the presenter on making their point and quick – no waffle). 

Sunday started with the Board Directors being present at 7am to welcome the attendees registering prior to commencement of the conference. The difficulty for the writer was determining what sessions to attend, particularly when there were two sessions at the same time you want to attend. The first program session I attended was – Urban Farming Displays. 

The presentation detailed how Erie County developed a farming display onsite for all year- round visitation. The locations for the displays were in areas of the site that were underutilised with the goal of educating an creating public awareness. The Fair also provides for activities such as “Meet the Farmer” and QR codes explaining the farming practices. The displays were created with the utilisation of items thrown out by the public. In order to obtain corporate sponsorship, the Fair mailed out an explanation of the trail and what was needed to assist them in putting it together, was successful in obtaining support. 

It was interesting to see Coal beds being used in the planters however it was explained as the trend in landscaping in the US. The coal doesn’t fade like mulch and provides the same results with weed and moisture management. Parts of the garden provides for the interaction with kids planting seeds and able to construct bird houses. The Fair also has a section of the garden that grows hops – this is to tie in with the Beer Competition. 

Livestock Shows through the eyes of the youth was presented by a 16-year-old girl Lilly Underberg (Jessica Underberg’s daughter). Her speech was memorable, so well-articulated and full of passion. Lilly provided an outline of the lifelong connections made through the competition circuits and what the youth are seeking from the comps. What the youth wants was simplified into 3 points; 

  1. Good quality judges 2. Keep Modern and in touch with industry 3. Unique / Useful awards 

Lilly did make a good point regarding trophies and ribbons – She suggested that useful trophies that advertise your event were more worthwhile. In her opining, trophies collect dust whilst feed bucket, show sticks etc are better as they are useful. The items can be branded whereby they will be advertising your event wherever they go utilising the items. 

She was also passionate about the benefits for youth in that it teaches them to be confident in themselves, look a person in the eye and shake their hand. Provides them with the skills to do public speaking – and Lilly can do this exceptionally well. 

The next presentation was from Sublette County Fair and it was on the Arts. The context was about working in art into your facilities with some good examples of how they achieved success. The presentation was on the photography context and was focused on Agricultural themed images. An interesting point was to use the images provided and utilise them around the Showground. The US has access to being able to blow up the photos onto 2×3 ft metal for approx. $115 US. They do it at their local Costco, so it might be worth looking into whether there are similar providers in Australia. They also include a “salt lick” carving competition which looked interesting – not sure it would take off in Aus. 

An interesting point from the morning sessions were that a number of the Fairs utilise tickets to their event as prize money. This might be something to consider in areas where sponsorship is lacking. 

What is on trend in the US and sure to pop up at some of the Australian shows is the onset of the “Ninja Warrior”. Alaska State Fair provided some insight on how they were able to set up an obstacle course and attract Ninjas. They also provided the opportunity for the general public to try the course. There are companies that can provide the lot, i.e. Ninjas, Equipment and announcers not mention the insurance for the general public wanting to encounter the course. 

Pricing for the Alaska Fair – $10 per run or 3 runs for $25 but they also provided Ninja training with 7 groups of 7 people spending an hour being trained by known Ninja’s. In discussion with a provider they spoke of a girl from Perth that is a Ninja and shouldn’t be hard to come up with something for the PRS. 

I attended a networking session for CEO’s and with no real format it was a general session for discussion. This provided a platform for questions, comments, other and was well utilised by all that attended. Some take away items that I thought was useful or needed further follow up included; 

  1. Provision of fact sheets around the ground demonstrating the $$ Value to the community 2. Letter to the residents prior to Show outlining the activities and a contact number for any issues. 3. Ensure adequate risk mitigation and process is in place for water borne bacteria.

North Carolina and Texas were linked to each other and to Legionella deaths (5 in total). Water samples from both Fairs have not proven a link or the source of the Legionella. Worthy of noting that all Cool Towers, Spa’s, water rides, Mop sinks etc need to be managed to ensure Legionella does not become fatal. 4. Social media has been damaging in some aspects to certain Fairs, particularly when 

someone from the public posts that they are coming to event to shoot it up. 5. Debrief discussion with the group generally seeing the advantage of the 3-step review; 3 things that rocked, 3 things that should be scrapped and 3 things that needs to be worked on. 6. Discussion on the ability for Fairs to do staff swaps – Adelaide provided example of staff exchange between Royal Cornwall Show and Royal Adelaide. 

The CEO’s from large Australian Shows held a meeting to catch up on the activities happening around the Nation. There was also focus on the upcoming ASA Conference and how best CEO’s could prepare teams for participation. 

The First Keynote Speaker for the Monday morning session was Bill Stainton who delivered a great presentation on “Connecting the Dots”. The session was well attended with only but a few seats available in the Lila Cockrell Theatre. 

Bill was a multiple Emmy award winning TV producer, writer and performer and was the Executive Producer on Frasier – I must admit you could see the similarities with Bill and Frasier uncannily similar in behaviour and humour.  His presentation was focused on making connections and not losing the opportunities in life simply because we think things or people have nothing to offer. Some of the key messages included; 

  1. What separates creative people from non-creative people – only one thing different 

– Creative people believe that they are creative 2. Need to ask yourself connection questions – How is this like that? How can I apply this to my situation? 

We did an exercise where we wrote a secret interest of hobby that we wanted to take up on a piece of paper and put in a balloon and then blew it up. The balloons were then bounced around the theatre (very funny) with each person getting a balloon. We popped the balloons and had to reach out to the person during the conference – this was a new connection. 

We finished the session with the induction into the IAFE Hall of Fame – this was so well done with a full production on the history of Kent Hojem (the inductee). There is an opportunity for Agricultural Shows of Australia to assess the potential for an Australian version in years to come. 

The Trade show was open for attendees to undertake the review of all the services, products and software available in the business. There were loads of entertainment options, unfortunately only some would be viable for Australia and of that it would come down to cost v budget. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane Royals were in attendance seeking out talent for their upcoming shows. 


Tuesday started with the Competition awards which Sydney and Brisbane did exceptionally well in and were overall winners in their respective Divisions. Perth received 6 awards with 2 winners for 2019 and are now better placed to enter the competitions going forward – expecting to do better in 2020 (the challenge has been accepted!!) 

The second keynote speaker was Tim Macintyre, Executive Vice President of Communications and Investor Relationships for Domino’s Pizza. Dominos is the world’s number 1 pizza with over 16,500 stores worldwide totalling $14.2 billion in annual sales. 

98% of all stores are franchised with owners typically starting as a kitchenhand or drivers and working up to purchasing their own store. Average franchisee owns 7 stores with an average profit of $140K per store per annum (add this up, serious income for the owners). This data was explained as a core belief of Dominos – “Promote Opportunity”. 

The second core belief was “embrace community” -$12 Million donated with $10 Million raised annually to worthy causes – Donated 40000 pizzas to Hurricane Katrina. Explained about making pizzas in NY during September 11 to feed to police, fire and armed services. 

Third core belief is to be “uncommonly honest” – The initiative where people are able to post pictures of the pizzas, they received straight onto the Dominos site for feedback. This also includes a review that scrolls across the billboards in Times Square. 

Tim went onto discuss this honesty when encountering the anti-meat production movement and comments about farmers. Dominos believe that “they make pizza and farmer raise animals, it’s not Dominos place to tell Farmers what to do”. Dominos believes that it can’t make pizza without farmers and that they have loads in common. 

  • They are entrepreneurs 
  • Owner operators 
  • Hardworking 
  • Give back to communities 
  • Focussed on Operations 24/7/365 
  • Care deeply about the food they produce 
  • Care about the people they employ 
  • Care about the environment. 

Tim believed that you can; 

  • Find strength in one another 
  • Celebrate our collective agricultural heritage – there is nothing wrong with connecting people with where their food comes from. 
  • Embrace uncommon honesty – look closely, objectively at your operations 
  • Listen to the questions people ask you 
  • If there is an issue address them 
  • Remember: “one of you can hurt all of you” 
  • Stand up and realise just how important you truly are 

I think we all felt like pizza at the end of the presentation, either that or were thinking about a franchisee opportunity. 

I attended a session for the IAFE Institute of Fair Management on the “Art of selling Sponsorship”. It provided a framework for all involved to review their current approach to Sponsorship and challenge what opportunities are being left on the table. The session outlined the process, do’s and don’ts and some industry benchmarked levels that should be achieved with Sponsorship. 

The evening included a hosted Happy Hour with local US talent providing music and stage performances for the entertainment industry. The bar cards provided were loaded with 2 drinks that provided etix the opportunity to demonstrate the point of sale equipment for cashless environment. 

Wednesday’s general session was opened by Dave Davlin, a gent that holds the world record for the most basketballs spun on his body. He used the basketballs to lighten the session and deliver some of the funnier components of the Conference. The main theme was inner reflection to become the person that you want to become. 

The opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour of the San Antonio Conference Centre was provided. The tour looked at all the operations, facilities and mechanical services and was conducted by the Director of Assets. Of particular interest outside the sheer scale and size was the philosophy of outsourcing all the mechanical services component. The entire HVAC system was sitting across the road owned by another company (San Antonio Water Corp). The Conference Centre was not required to worry about a number of these services as they were provided by third parties. As you can imagine the Security Systems for the Conference Centre were high spec and no area remained uncovered. Access controls and building monitoring systems were all top shelf. 

I finished the conference with an IAFE Directors breakfast and meeting to debrief from the 2019 Champions of Change and be briefed on the 2020 Clear Vision event. The Directors were all complimentary of the efforts of the team aptly led by Marla Calico to deliver such a huge conference. For those attending the ASA Conference in January 2020, you will get the chance to meet her as well as Jessica Underberg (Immediate Past Chair). 

Now the 2019 IAFE conference is over and I have had time to reflect I can truly say that this is an experience. The education and the networking are exceptional and if the opportunities comes your way to attend – grab it with both hands!