Bill Johnston has never missed a Fieldays. The legendary Invercargill farmer has been making the annual pilgrimage since 1969 and has watched the event grow and evolve with the times. 2020 will be the first year that Johnston won’t be making the trip, with Fieldays being entirely online.
With 48 years of marriage to wife Anne, the 73-year-old is sure he’ll still enjoy the virtual event in July despite missing his yearly six-week Fieldays holiday up north.
“It’s going to be a whole new ball game, but I’ll find a way there with a bit of help. The boss will help me. She’s a lot savvier than I am; she can manage internet banking, I can’t!” he chuckles.
Johnston is positive about the Society’s decision in the face of Covid-19. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You can’t just say it’s too hard and cancel everything until next year.”
The bonus is the online event is free. “I’ve paid for a fair few, but a few times I’ve scored some free ones,” says Johnston.
Farmers are used to working from home and with Fieldays Online being two weeks instead of the usual four days, Bill reckons he’s going to spend a bit more time surfing the internet.
“I’ll have a look each day and see what tickles my fancy.
“At Fieldays I usually do all the donkey work for my son Graeme. We both have a traipse around the place and see what we can find, then we both go back to do a bit more in-depth ‘cage rattling’ or tyre kicking, which I’m sure exhibitors won’t miss from me.
“I’ll have my own Fieldays Online holiday in the lounge, with my feet up and I guess having it on-demand I can watch what I want and when I want. We’re going to give it a go, but don’t worry we’ll be back next year.”
The Society will be bringing back the physical event alongside a digital one in 2021. “It’s a great idea, having the online one as well. If people can only go on one day and they miss things, they can bring it up online. Not everyone has the luxury to spend all four days there,” Johnston says.
Fieldays Online will feature a wide variety of exhibitors from dairy, machinery, motor vehicles and general ag and lifestyle promoting their brand, product, and services on the platform. The technology will allow for an immersive journey for visitors.
“Innovation is part of our DNA. This is no different to the first ever Fieldays when organisers expected around 3000 people but ended up hosting 10,000, says Society chief executive Peter Nation. “Fifty-two years on and we have essentially been forced to adapt and try something new. In many ways this harks back to the real reason the event was started, which is why we’ve invested heavily in the online offering. It’s the most innovative thing we have ever done.”
The virtual event will see the return of the Fieldays Innovation Awards which has opened digital doors to international exhibitors.
“Fieldays Innovation Awards is pretty much recognised as one of the premier agricultural award events in the world,” says Irish agritech exhibitor MagGrow. “We see this as a fantastic opportunity to connect with potential customers, investors, commercial and local research partners. It also provides MagGrow a fantastic platform to reach out to a wider audience through the various media channels.
James Muir of Riverwatch, winners of the 2019 Amazon Web Services Innovation in Data Award, and making a comeback to Fieldays Online, says the experience highlighted the huge appetite for innovation in the agricultural industry. “We were surprised at the amount of interest that we got from the farming sector when we are an environmental enterprise. It was one of the best experiences and gave us a lot of encouragement to keep going.”
Muir’s advice for entrants is simple. “Make sure your brand is strong. Be clear on what your message is, people want to hear a strong elevator pitch to believe in an idea. A working prototype to show your product works is a must, it proves that it’s trustworthy and it works.”
Innovation Awards categories include: Established Prototype, Grassroots Prototype, Launch NZ and International as well as several sponsor awards.
Register your interest for Fieldays Online here
The event runs from 13-26 July.