This year, COVID-19 has changed the landscape at both the county and state fair level, with states such as Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota canceling state fairs. While the Nebraska State Fair will look different for 2020, 4H and FFA exhibitions and competitions are very much on for this year, following a decision by the state fair board in late June.
"I applaud our 4H and FFA state leadership. They recognize the challenges as strong as anybody, as ex-officio, yet very important representative members of the fair board. They understood how other state fairs have sadly but understandably opted to cancel," says Bill Ogg, who officially became executive director of the Nebraska State Fair on June 22. "They recognize that's a real option and stepped up and asked, 'Can we focus on our youth memberships?' They worked hard on budgeting and making it as affordable as we can do and still reward those members for their excellence."
This year, 4H and FFA exhibitions and competitions will serve as weekend bookends of the typical fair dates — Aug. 28 through Sept. 7.
"4H competitions and shows will be held on the first weekend [Aug.28-30], and the FFA events and dairy competitions will be held on the second weekend [Sept. 4-6]," Ogg says. "From a functional standpoint, separate weekends allow us to provide physical distancing that can enable us to have the livestock shows safely, even in Phase 2 of the COVID-19 program. That also allows social distancing for our static exhibits. We want to emphasize static exhibits as strongly as we ever have."
While the open class events may have to be canceled, the full gamut of 4H and FFA events will be offered.
Unlike some county fairs in Nebraska this year, Ogg notes the state fair will not require livestock exhibitors to "show-and-go," or haul animals in, show them, and load them out in a single day.
"The structure is essentially a Friday arrival and check-in, or an early-morning Saturday arrival and weigh-in, check-in and class assignments, and scheduling happens mid-morning Saturday. Exhibitions are held Saturday and Sunday, and exhibitors are released upon completion of the classes they're participating in," Ogg says. "For people traveling from longer distances, overnight accommodations are available. If they're showing in multiple species and are involved in showmanship as well as market classes, those events will be spread out over two days. At least one overnight is likely for most of the exhibitors, possibly two nights if coming from a longer distance."
Ogg notes that while the fair is prepared to take place under Phase 2 changes to the state's Directed Health Measures, Hall County moved to Phase 3 guidelines on July 6. So, as restrictions become eased, fair staff and volunteers will be able to ease certain restrictions as well.
"My heart breaks every time I hear of another fair canceling, but I certainly understand why they chose to do that. Trying to plan and budget when things are changings so rapidly with so many unknowns can be excruciatingly painful," Ogg adds. "That said, we are prepared to have an event under Phase 2. We are scheduled to be in Phase 3 on July 6 in Hall County, which relaxes some protocols and distancing requirements. It doesn’t eliminate them, but reduces certain restrictions."