Immense pressure and temperatures are what it takes to forge a diamond, and a small group of passionate and determined young people passed through the same crucible 40 years ago when they had the idea for a small rural field day in Tasmania.
Now, a jewel in the crown of Tasmania's rural and social calendar, Rural Youth Tasmania, an organisation for rural young people under the age of 30, is preparing for the 2022 iteration of Agfest, celebrating four decades.
Inaugural chairman Noel Beven AM was one of that original group, which came at a time of great stress for the organisation after state funding they had previously enjoyed dried up, leaving them without a lifeline.
"A group of us got together to try to find a way to create an income stream and secure the future of the foundation, and the idea got raised that we could do a field day," Mr Beven recalled.
Today's Agfest, which will return to the paddock at Quercus Park at full crowd capacity following the impact of COVID-19, is expected to attract more than 60,000 people to the event over three days in August. Agfest conservatively contributes up to $26 million into the Tasmanian economy each year, with hundreds of businesses relying on the event's trade each year.
It is also known as a social and cultural icon of Tasmania - and it's nearly guaranteed to rain at least one of the days of the event.
Mud, gumboots and raincoats that protect from the elements are a must, and first-time event-goers are encouraged to plan ahead regarding what events to target, because it's nearly impossible to see everything there is on offer.
The very first Agfest was held at Symmons Plains in 1983, tickets were $2 and about 8000 people streamed through the gates.
"It was basically like a mini-version of the Agfest of today, Mr Beven said.
However, getting to that point took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and it was a lot harder due to the lack of technology.
"I spent two months living in Launceston away from home and my family while we were organising it," Mr Beven recalled.
"It was before the invention of things like mobile phones and the internet and emails."
He said trying to drum up support from businesses, stallholders and farmers took a lot of work, and often it meant physically driving out to farms to talk to people.
"We were just a group of young people with an idea, but it was a good idea," he said.
The idea would not have worked without the dedication of the whole team to the vision, who spent countless hours bringing it all to life.
"One of the successes of the first Agfest was the ground rules, we set out pretty early what the rules were for exhibitors; we knew what they wanted and they knew what we expected from them," he said.
One of the drawcards was the large space at Symmons Plains, and then afterwards at Quercus Park, particularly for large agricultural machinery businesses.
"Machinery businesses wanted to bring their machines to do live demonstrations, and you just can't do that anywhere else," he said.
The first time the gates opened on the very first Agfest Mr Beven recalled feeling exhaustion, to be quickly replaced with jubilation and satisfaction.
He said the time leading up to Agfest excited him each and every year and it was a testament to the hard work of the current and past crops of Rural Youth volunteers.
Mr Beven, who is a life member of Rural Youth and continues to serve as a mentor for the younger members of the organisation coming through the ranks. He was awarded an AM by the Queen for his contribution to the inaugural event and the others he was involved in.
However, the road to getting back to a full-capacity Agfest has not been without its hiccups, a major one being that ongoing health pandemic.
COVID-19 led to mass cancellation of events in 2019 and 2020 and, unfortunately, Agfest was a casualty of public health directions and reduced crowd capacity limits.
Former chairman Ethan Williams became the first chairman to ever have to cancel the event in 2020, after organisers spent months trying to find a way to make it viable.
At the time, Mr Williams said organisers had expected more than 700 exhibitors and 65,000 people would attend the event, originally scheduled for May.
"It's a massive blow to Tasmania along with everything else that has been cancelled over the last few days ... everyone suffers, unfortunately," he said.
"In the wake of what's happened, it's not a surprise - the writing's been on the wall."
Mr Williams said exhibitors had been refunded 85 per cent of their reservation payment following the cancellation.
He said it was in the terms and conditions signed by all exhibitors that no refund could have been given if the event was cancelled.
Rural Youth Tasmania lost $500,000 due to the cancellation of the 2021 Agfest, but Mr Williams said at the time the organisation's focus was looking forward, not back.
And in 2021, the event returned to its physical form, at a reduced capacity, a decision that was also frustrating for the public.
Unfortunately, school groups that had attended in the past were unable to go due to Rural Youth favouring paying ticket holders due to crowd caps.
Agfest relocated to its current home at Quercus Park in 1986 after it outgrew its former home at Symmons Plains.
When Agfest is not on, or other events, the land is a working farm, with livestock grazing between the infrastructure.
Mr Beven said Symmons Plains had originally been chosen because it was a centrally located area that had a lot of space and infrastructure to hold a field day of the size they planned.
Current chairman Caine Evans, in his first year as chair, said it had been a hard road, but the committee was well underway to organising this year's event.
"It's been a turbulent time; Ethan [Williams] was the first chairman to have to cancel Agfest and I have been the first chairman to have to postpone Agfest," he said.
Lingering crowd caps on outdoor events and questions over the viability of the event forced this year's committee to postpone the event to August, away from its traditional May timeslot. This move is likely to lead to lower exhibitor and crowd numbers.
August is a typically busy time for the rural community, particularly for dairy farmers.
It also creates a problem in that two Agfests will be held in a financial year, which creates budget constraints for some stallholders.
Mr Evans said numbers were down on exhibitors this year, due to that constraint, but he said there were also some exciting new additions.
The University of Tasmania has purchased one of the entire exhibition sheds, and they will be bringing their research bus and will be exhibiting some its recent research.
James Boag is also a new addition to the site this year, and will be hosting the food and drink marquee, which will return after being spread around to reduce gathering in 2021.
After not being able to welcome school groups last year, Mr Evans said they were proud to have partnered with agricultural schools for a livestock handling competition.
"All the schools are bringing their teams, they are excited."
Rural Youth Tasmania is an organisation for young people involved or interested in agriculture. It is aimed at people under the age of 30.
The main function of the Rural Youth Tasmania volunteers is to plan and organise Agfest each year, and roles can be switched up and changed to give people a chance to develop new skills.
Mr Evans said he wished he'd been involved in Rural Youth earlier in his life, so he could have spent more years with the group - he is current chairman, but has technically aged out.
"It's the cameraderie and the leadership skills, it's such a unique organisation to be part of," he said.
He said returning to the paddock at Quercus Park was not only significant for the Agfest event and its patrons, but also for Rural Youth, who have also been separated due to the pandemic.
"We can't wait to be here; we have lost a lot of connections due to COVID and have had to do things digitally that we would normally do in person," he said.
"So it will be great to finally be here."
Mr Evans said it was no mean feat for young people under the age of 30 to produce and organise a multi-million dollar event for Tasmania and he was proud to be part of it.
Mr Beven said the success of the event was that it was family-friendly and appealed to everyone, whether they were from an agricultural or rural background or not.
"Everyone can find something there they enjoy," he said.
Rural Youth and its seven employees are funded by the proceeds from Agfest.
The organisation and Agfest continue to develop the confidence, skills and capacity of Tasmania's young rural leaders as they connect, learn and love tackling the mammoth task of organising the legendary annual field day.
What: Agfest 2022
When: August 24-27 (in the paddock) and August 24-September 1 (virtual in the cloud event).
Where: Quercus Park, Carrick
Tickets: Go on sale July 1.
More information: www.agfest.com.au
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