Cows and crowds cancelled, but the A&P Show goes on

Isabelle Crawshaw is a Hawke's Bay farmer and competitor.
Isabelle Crawshaw is a Hawke's Bay farmer and competitor. Photo credit: RNZ

By Anusha Bradley of RNZ

One of the largest events on the Hawke's Bay calendar has had to make big changes in order to survive COVID-19.

There are still prize roosters, champion pigs, and donkeys on display at this year's A&P Show, but the cows have been cancelled along with the crowds.

The showground has been split into two areas, with all competitive events on one side where no spectators are allowed, and all games, rides and a petting zoo on the other. There are no trade or food stalls this year.

"We did this so that if we had to close anything down, one of those things could occur without the other," Hawke's Bay A&P Society general manager Sally Jackson said.

These changes were vital if the show was to survive as it was "touch and go" during COVID alert level 2 whether it would go ahead at all, she said.

"We have 160 years of our history, it would be a shame to let that go."

Sally Jackson: "We have 160 years of our history."
Sally Jackson: "We have 160 years of our history." Photo credit: RNZ

The show had been scaled down only once before and that was during World War II.

"So we are really pleased we've been able to adapt our show and carry on."

Carrying on with the sporting events was vital, because it was where many qualified for national or international events, Jackson said.

Over in the shearing shed, under the watchful eye of former shearing champion Marg Baynes, a dozen college students practised their technique before their first big competition.

Sheep shearing was increasingly popular and events like this were important to attract new talent, she said.

"We've got a variety of schools here... and it just seems to be growing."

Optimism despite setbacks

It has been a tough year for Hawke's Bay farmers, with the drought, COVID-19 and outbreaks of bovine TB and Mycoplasma bovis.

Despite this, sheep and beef farmer Isabelle Crawshaw said the rural community was feeling positive about the future.

"If anything, when you are thrown some epidemics and a few different other things into the mix, it brings people together. There's a real sense of pride in the community."

In the pig arena, former champion breeder Ben Hindshaw was hoping his prize Berkshire pig Bernard was in for another win.

He was also philosophical about the tumultuous last 12 months, and the year ahead for farmers like him.

"I'm pretty comfortable in the fact that the worst years are probably behind me," he said with a smile.

Hawke's Bay farmer Ben Hindmarsh is hopeful his Berkshire pig Bernard will take the top prize.
Hawke's Bay farmer Ben Hindmarsh is hopeful his Berkshire pig Bernard will take the top prize. Photo credit: RNZ

And like many farmers at the show that RNZ spoke to, he wasn't bothered by the historic swing the Tukituki electorate made from blue to red in the election either.

"It's what the people voted for, and that's fine.

"I've no problem with regulation as long as we're given a little bit of support and encouragement of some sort."

Seventy-seven-year-old retired farmer Cyril Pickering, who has been part of the A&P show for 40 years, would normally be down in the cattle shed.

But with all the sheep and cattle shows cancelled because of the high proportion of elderly competitors, he had instead made himself at home in the members' tent where he was a volunteer.

Despite a rough year, things were looking brighter, Pickering said.

"They're all pretty upbeat. Prices are looking good for lamb in the coming season, the dairy boys have all had lifts in their income, so we just hope the green grass keeps growing to get us out of this hole."

The show which opened yesterday runs till Monday.