For 139 years, the Whangārei A and P Show has been bringing town and country together in a showcase of the best of rural life.
New Whangārei Agricultural and Pastoral Society president Evan Smeath is hoping the 140-year celebrations can now go ahead smoothly on Saturday December 5 if Covid-19 restrictions can stay at a low level.
"We are trying our best to go a little upmarket this year and make things a little different to celebrate 140 years,'' he said.
Top jersey breeder Smeath, who took over from longtime president Murray Jagger recently, said he is especially keen for the 140th show to be a success after such a tough year for everyone coping with Covid-19 restrictions.
"The show is the main reason for our society's existence, and it's a great opportunity to see farmers showcasing their best animals. It's been a tough year for town and country alike and the show is a chance to share some of the things farmers do every day, which helps to hold the country together at the moment," Smeath said.
The annual show, held at Barge Showgrounds in Maunu, has plenty of entertainment on offer, including the Fresha Valley Suzie Moo Show, a great line up of coffee and food vendors, and trade exhibitors all happy to sell products for Christmas and the year ahead.
Once inside the gates, there are loads of demonstrations, free attractions and the largest number of animals at any event in Northland.
"We hope to have a wide variety of animal breeds on display, and the popular horse competitions are being revamped to make the events run more quickly and make good use of the grounds.
"A portable shearing stage is also being built so that we can hold a shearing competition, which should be popular with the crowds. We have some very good shearers in Northland."
Lambs and goats will be back and cattle will be displayed under strict quarantine conditions due to Mycoplasma Bovis risks.
"We have to be extremely careful. All the cattle will be penned individually and the public will not have direct access but they will be on display,'' Smeath said.
Smeath has taken on the role at a difficult time but is grateful for the skilled work of his predecessor and the "wonderful staff" at the society's offices.
The society set up a farm internship scheme this year, which is "going extremely well".
"We are very pleased so far. The young interns are really keen and doing a good job on their farm placements. We have made a few changes when a couple of the interns did not gel but our pastoral care system has helped sort those out."
He said the aim of the scheme is to turn out capable farm workers who are well trained.
"The key thing is it's not just about ticking a box. They must have done the work and theory assignments properly. We want to have a good reputation for training good workers."
The society has built up a substantial commercial property portfolio in Whangārei and Paihia, which was severely affected when the country was locked down earlier this year.
"We had about a 30 per cent loss of income from our rental business and functions at Barge Showgrounds Events Centre all being stopped," Smeath said.
The society also manages the Masonic Villages and Whangārei pensioner housing portfolios in Northland.
Smeath is one of New Zealand's top jersey breeders, with his herd in the top 5 per cent nationally.
He farms 280 jersey cows on 95ha of a 202ha property at Hukerenui with his wife, Sherleen, and son and daughter-in-law Clinton and Pam.
Milked once a day, the cows are high-producing elite animals averaging 1.54kg/milk solid per day on once a day milking. Some are producing up to 25 litres of milk a day.
"This season we have had 14 per cent more production than last year, despite the drought and a flood. We've been working hard on improving our grass and fine-tuning our operations," he said.
The Smeath bulls are highly sought by breeding centres and contract mating of cows is another arm to the business. Elite animals in the herd are used for Trans Vaginal Recovery – test-tube babies for cows – where the fertilised embryos are transplanted into surrogate cows.
"We can have about eight embryos created, which is essentially a lifetime of calves in one year. The eight calves can be on the ground before she has calved herself. The advance in genetics is potentially huge compared with when I started out breeding more than 40 years ago."
Smeath is also involved in helping manage the Northland College farm. As an old boy of the school, he was called in to help restore the farming venture.
"With a group of others, we have managed to turn it around to making a profit again. It's running 300 cows, forestry, bees and manuka. The kids are on a roster to help the contract milker as part of the school's agricultural academy."
In any scarce spare time, Smeath jokes about trying to "scratch his nose" although he does manage a bit of fishing occasionally at the family bach.