HUGHESVILLE, Pa. — The impact of the depressed dairy market is felt not only by other businesses that rely on the industry, but in the show ring as well.
As milk prices remain low and more dairy farms continue to close, the number of entries in dairy shows at county fairs is declining.
Andrew McCarty, dairy superintendent for the Lycoming County Fair, said this year’s open and youth shows combined had 20 fewer entries than 2018. He acknowledged that some farms are hesitant to bring their cows to a show when the temperature skyrockets in the summer, but the milk prices have more to do with the drop in entries.
Other livestock shows aren’t as susceptible to market prices as dairy, and in order to maintain participation the Lycoming fair opened its show up to all counties several years ago.
McCarty said he sees more participants that don’t live on an active dairy farm but still show milk cows. That’s helped with participation and McCarty anticipates the trend will increase.
“We’ve had more people who don’t milk but buy an animal for their child to show,” McCarty said. “But even in that case, dairy farms are still needed for a place to house and milk the cow. You need to have the dairy industry to have a show animal.”
Chris Reichard, who has judged dairy shows for the last five years, believes participation will continue to drop in correlation to a decline in dairy farms.
In addition, the demands of a show and the temporary loss of production while a cow is away may be too much for a farm to accommodate during low milk prices.
“People are going to be a lot more apprehensive to go to a show if they’re depending on a milk check,” Reichard said.
Still, McCarty said dairy shows remain popular — particular with Holstein and Red and White breeds — and he’s always looking for ways to boost participation.
“We may have to change the way we do our show and really cater to our exhibitors so we don’t lose them,” he said. “That means remaining open to suggestions, listening to their ideas and implementing those changes.”
Show participation has fluctuated in the past as kids grow too old for 4-H and there’s a gap before the next generation comes in, McCarty added. That may be happening now, he said, but it still doesn’t lessen the dependence on the dairy industry.
“Even if there is a gap in 4-H participation and our shows, are we going to see it fluctuate back without the dairy industry?” he asked.