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Should State Fair Take Another Look at Spotlight Sale?

Should State Fair Take Another Look at Spotlight Sale?
Varying opinions on how current sale event operates.

Whether the Indiana State Fair spotlight auction for outstanding 4-H projects is accomplishing its intended goal or not depends upon who you talk to. Each year a few days after the Grand Drive for barrows, steers, wethers and now dairy goats, a sale is held in the Pepsi Coliseum.

The format has changed over the years, from allowing all breed winners in to only selling a few animals, to the current format, where the judge selects five or six including the champion for the sale. A few other items also include, including the winning garden exhibit, so a few other 4-H'ers can participate. Everybody else's garden is donated to charity after judging. Show animals are either taken home or loaded onto a truck at market price.

Here's the rub. In the 'old days' of several years ago, the recent was broadcast, often live, on local TV. The 25th anniversary sale was broadcast live on an ag radio network. As far as we know, it is not broadcast today. Also in the old days, many corporate sponsors would show up and bid on animals. Today, a few show up, but more add money to a pot already started by the family itself rather than buy animals outright. And it's never clear who will show up and who won't. Many of those who participated in the past no longer participate.

The catch is that once you go through the jubilation of winning or being assigned to the sale, as recently as the night before for livestock entries, the next morning you're instructed on how to conduct a four-day marathon to raise money. While each case is different, one family with a winner this year reports that it basically boils down to sending the 4-H'er and family members out into the community and begging for money. Most people donate, sometimes at $50 or $75, sometimes more. But it takes a lot of donations to reach a sizable bid.

Says one parent who did what they call the 'Jerry Lewis Telethon' for four days, "Just give my child his banner and or plaque, his premium and let us go home. It's a lot of money, yes, but having to beg for money for four days really took away from the moment. We would rather have savored the moment than to have to have did what we did."

On the flip side, just to look at the numbers, the sale is performing well, up for the 4th straight year in a row, nearly reaching $300,000 in total receipts this year, and setting records on 13 items sold. However, also factor in that the Indiana State Fair and Indiana 4-H keep 20% of all money collected. The 4-H'er gets the other 80%.

How much education happens in enduring a grueling ordeal of raising money? What position does it put the person in? Some counties give more help at raising money than others. Is it more for publicity and a fund raiser for 4-H and the state fair, or is it to truly benefit 4-H'ers? And out of all Indiana 4-H'ers, how many benefit?

The questions are fair. The answers will likely be all over the board. Let us know what you think at tbechman@farmprogress.com. We reserve the right to share appropriate comments. 

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