While the 2020 Iowa State Fair has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state fair officials voted to allow the staff to explore the possibility of scheduling 4-H and FFA livestock shows. They’ve come up with a plan, and lots of young people around the state are thankful. Show or no show, these kids are learning valuable lessons as they raise their animals this year.
Gary Slater has been state fair manager for nearly 20 years. He’s faced many challenges in renovating and upgrading the fair, but never has a decision been as big as the one he and the Iowa State Fair board had to make this year. In March and April, they began making and revising contingency plans. As the pandemic continued into May and other Midwest state fairs began canceling their events for this year, Slater and his staff continued to study the situation. A number of county fairs in Iowa had already decided not to hold their 2020 events.
After careful consideration and discussion of the options outlined by Slater, the Iowa State Fair board voted at its June 10 meeting to cancel this year’s fair. The next Iowa State Fair is scheduled for Aug. 12-22, 2021. For the first time since World War II, there will be no Iowa State Fair this summer.
A sad but necessary decision
The state fair was first held at Fairfield in southeast Iowa in 1854. It moved to its current location in Des Moines in 1886 and only has been canceled five times before. There wasn’t a fair in 1898 due to the World Fair held in Omaha and the Spanish-American War. The fair was also a wartime casualty from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.
Canceling this year’s state fair, scheduled for Aug. 13-23, was a sad decision but kind of expected. “I know it will be a long 14 months until the next Iowa State Fair,” Slater said, as the fair board voted to “postpone” the event until 2021. “We tried to put together a plan that kept everybody safe.”
But in the end, he said, it was determined that any kind of fair to be held in 2020 amid the pandemic wouldn’t be anything like people expect from the annual event, which is one of the largest state fairs in the country. The Iowa State Fair draws about a million people during its 11-day run. Last year it had 195 food vendors and about 600 commercial exhibitors.
“Financially, holding a smaller social-distancing fair would end up with the fair losing about the same amount of money as it would lose by not having a fair,” Slater said. “So, finances weren’t the primary factor in our decision to not hold the fair this year.”
He worked with the fair board and put together a plan to hold some livestock shows that will be spread out over a period of time at the fairgrounds. The 4-H and FFA livestock show schedule was released June 18. It will be more of a private show rather than the usual public event. But it’s still a great way to allow these young people to be recognized for the work they’ve put into their projects.
4-H, FFA livestock shows
The Iowa State Fairgrounds will host “Fair Special Edition: Iowa 4-H and FFA Livestock Show” this summer, following the postponement of the 2020 Iowa State Fair. The revised schedule for 4-H livestock shows will be spread out over three weeks and held Thursdays through Saturdays — Aug. 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22. Due to safety concerns, there will be no in-person static exhibits or judging held on the state fairgrounds this year. Virtual alternatives for those activities are being considered, and details will be released soon.
To limit attendance at livestock shows, youth exhibitors will be allowed to bring only two people with them. All attendees and exhibitors will be required to wear a wristband. The Iowa State Fair will sell wristbands to the public and will cap the number sold at 1,000.
“We can’t thank the Iowa State Fair Board and staff enough for their support and cooperation to provide an exhibition opportunity for our 4-H youth livestock members,” says Debbie Nistler, Iowa 4-H state program leader for ISU Extension and Outreach. “The life skills these young people gain from their livestock project experience is invaluable, and the Iowa State Fair is the culmination of that experience.”
To protect the health and safety of everyone, this special-edition show will follow all Iowa Department of Public Health and CDC recommendations for social distancing, handwashing and sanitization. Information for 4-H families and youth exhibitors is on the Iowa State Fair 4-H Livestock page. For more information on the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program, contact your county ISU Extension office or visit the Iowa 4-H website.
Charity Steer Show to go on
Plans are underway for the 38th annual Governor's Charity Steer Show on Aug. 15. The event, which raises money for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Iowa, would typically be held at the Iowa State Fair. But with cancelation of the 2020 fair, show organizers have adjusted the plans.
“The Governor’s Charity Steer Show is a long-standing tradition and benefits a very good cause,” says Tanner Lawton, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association staff member and co-chair of this year’s show. “We knew the show and auction probably wouldn’t be the same as it has been in years past, but our priority is making sure we have a successful fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House Charities in Iowa.”
This historic philanthropic event has raised over $3.8 million to help provide a home away from home for families of children who are being treated in nearby hospitals. Ronald McDonald Houses are in Des Moines, Iowa City and Sioux City. This year's show will be held at the Hansen Student Learning Center on the ISU campus at Ames.
Twenty-five steers from across the state will compete for the championship designation, showmanship honors and the People’s Choice award. Each steer has been raised by an Iowa youth involved in the cattle industry, and celebrities will accompany the young steer owners. Immediately following the competition, the steers will be sold at auction with proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Iowa. Last year’s auction raised more than $284,000.