10/6/2012 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent
HARRISONBURG, Va. — Hundreds of youth and their families will gather at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds next weekend for the first Virginia Youth Livestock Expo Oct. 11 to 14.
The livestock show will serve as the culminating statewide event for 4-H livestock projects and is being held separately this year from the Virginia State Fair, the previous home of the year-end, statewide youth livestock show.
After the state fair’s previous owners declared bankruptcy this spring, casting the fair’s future into doubt, 4-H leaders worked to organize an alternative event to showcase youth livestock projects.
In April, Virginia Cooperative Extension announced that the Virginia Youth Livestock Expo would take place in Rockingham County. Those plans have remained in place, even as a Tennessee company subsequently purchased the state fairgrounds and staged the state fair there in partnership with the Virginia Farm Bureau last week.
Youth Livestock Expo Superintendent Paige Pratt, a youth livestock Extension specialist, said that 318 exhibitors have signed up to show lambs, cattle, hogs and goats at the show. A total of nearly 1,200 animals have been entered in the show, making it somewhat larger than recent years, Pratt said. She added that actual turnout is typically somewhat lower than registration.
“It’s not going to look or feel like a fair,” said Jeff Ishee, general manager of the Rockingham County Fair. “It’s going to look and feel exactly like what it is: a youth livestock competition and expo.”
The event is open to the public, with free admission and parking, Ishee said. Shows will be primarily held during the daytime, from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The fact that the show is being held separately from the state fair, Pratt said, means the midway and other entertainment won’t be there to help attract more exhibitors and spectators. At the same time, she said, the free admission and the show’s location in the state’s strongest agricultural region should boost interest in the event.
The state 4-H and FFA crops contest, agriculture demonstration and stockman’s contest will also be held in conjunction with the youth livestock expo, bringing several hundred more 4-H and FFA participants to Rockingham County next weekend.
It remains unclear what the future holds for the youth livestock expo now that the state fair is back under new ownership and management.
The Virginia Farm Bureau, now a partner in the state fair, is a major sponsor of this year’s livestock expo in Rockingham County, Pratt said. At the same time, the Farm Bureau hopes to bring the 4-H livestock shows back to the state fair, said Greg Hicks, the Virginia Farm Bureau’s vice-president for communications.
Pratt said that while the rural location this year in Rockingham County puts the show closer to many of the exhibitors, it diminishes the educational component the show can play in a more urban location. The state fairgrounds in Doswell, Va., are on the outskirts of the state capital, Richmond, and provide good exposure for agriculture in an urban area.
“We certainly want to work with (the state fair) to have it there if at all possible,” Pratt said.
Ishee, the general manager of the Rockingham County Fair, noted that several parties have an interest in the event’s future now, and that no serious conversations have taken place about next year. For now, organizers remain focused on making the upcoming show a success.
“It looks like it’s going to be a great event,” he said.