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University of Illinois decision forces all 4-H shows through July 5 to be canceled, postponed or moved online.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

May 4, 2020

3 Min Read
A young competitor shows her cow
ONLINE? Illinois 4-H Director Lisa Diaz says summer 4-H shows play a really critical role in the social gathering and celebration within the 4-H community, but “we have to make adjustments.” Holly Spangler

All in-person events sponsored by Illinois Extension through July 5 have been canceled, postponed or transitioned to an online format. This includes all 4-H livestock and general project exhibitions, but does not include county fairs that are operated by local associations independently from 4-H.

Illinois 4-H Director Lisa Diaz says summer 4-H events are important and play a “really critical” role in the social gathering and celebration within the 4-H community.

“But we recognize that for public health reasons, we have to make adjustments. So that’s what we’ve been doing,” she says. “While we miss the social component of gathering face to face, we are excited that we’re in a position where we can offer a continuation of judging experiences in an online format.”

Related: Complete coronavirus coverage

Decisions for events following July 5 will occur on the following timeline:

  • May 4. Events through July 5 canceled or transitioned to an online format

  • June 1. Decision shared regarding July 6 to July 31 events

  • July 1. Decision shared regarding Aug. 1-15 events

  • July 15. Decision shared regarding Aug. 16-31 events

  • Aug. 1. Decision shared regarding Sept. 1-30 events

Additionally, all Illinois Extension camps, including 4-H youth day camps and overnight camps, are canceled through Aug. 15.

Move to online

All 4-H shows and exhibitions through July 5 are being transitioned online to a platform called FairEntry. Diaz says 4-H staff have worked with the program in the past to track placements and state fair delegates throughout the summer. FairEntry and 4-H Online are two programs developed by Registration Max, and are already in use in Illinois 4-H.

To submit their entry, exhibitors will upload photos and, where necessary, video of their project, and will answer a series of questions like what a judge might ask. They’ll be able to use either a home computer or a cellphone. Diaz says they won’t require a videoconferencing system due to both limited internet in rural areas and the logistics of setting up videoconferences with every exhibitor, which number in the hundreds in some counties.

“We’re reconciled to the reality that it won’t be the same experience as it has been in the past,” Diaz concedes, but hopes online judging may work even better for some due to scheduling and logistics.

Diaz estimates the decision affects about 12 counties where the county fair was scheduled for June. Other counties have smaller project shows in June and will be affected as well, even though their major general project and livestock show may occur in July or August.

The decision comes as a result of a campus-wide decision by the University of Illinois to cancel events through July 5, following input from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Those agencies also worked with Extension to develop the phased approach for events after July 5.

Diaz says the timeline provides clarity for Extension staff, 4-H members and volunteers that will allow them to move forward with plans for summer events, scheduled to begin in just over a month.

She acknowledges the most frequently asked question she’s already getting: “Can’t we just postpone our June event for later in the summer?” Logistically, she says, that would be a nightmare, in terms of stacking June events on top of July and August events. Her direction to 4-H staff is that if a major exhibition event is scheduled for June — for example, a general project show or livestock show — that it be immediately moved online.

“Our mission is to support the welfare of families, communities and small businesses across the state,” says Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean and director of Illinois Extension. “Tough decisions today protect the safety and well-being of our Illinois families going forward, so that we can all safely return to the work of sustaining our communities and economy as soon as we can.”

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About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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